Matthew 9:1-8

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic— “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. [1]

People reading Matthew for the first time might think the arrangement of material is haphazard or at best nearly topical. It is topical. But it is more than topical. The material in Matthew moves forward to climax in chapters 9 and 10. We see a progression in the miracles. They start with simple physical healings: the leper, the sick servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and all the ailing people who come to Peter’s house desperately seeking wholeness.

Then his miracles advance to his power over nature, as he quiets the apocalyptic storm, and even over demons when he casts many of them out of the demon possessed men from Gadara. In Chapter 9, Jesus raises the dead and restores sight and speech to people who are blind and mute. This escalating development is also seen in the careful arrangement of the details surrounding the miracles (Matt. 8:18–22; 9:9–17). It concerns: (1) what it means to follow Jesus, (2) the authority of Jesus to forgive sins, and (3) the commissioning of those who have followed Jesus to take part in the missionary enterprise (Matt. 10:5–42). The obligation to tell others about Jesus is introduced in chapter 9 and forms the whole of chapter 10.[2]

In the chapter we come to this morning, we discover opposition from the Jewish leaders for the first time. That opposition will grow to the point at which they will plot to have Jesus crucified by the Gospel’s end. In our text this morning, Christ’s opponents accuse him of blasphemy. In the next few studies, they will accuse him of living with tax collectors and sinners, a general lack of piety, and of working his cures by the devil’s power.

Here is the elevator pitch for what we we’ll study in these first eight verses of the 9th chapter of Matthew: we will see both that forgiveness is man’s deepest need and also God’s highest achievement.[3]


Our text moves us from “the other side” (8:28), that is the region of the Gadarenes where Jesus exercised the legion of demons. Now, he is back in “his own city” (9:1). This was not his birth city of Bethlehem or his boyhood home of Nazareth, but his adopted city at the center of his Galilean ministry, Capernaum. In Mark chapter 2, Mark adds some details to the story.

Jesus is in a house preaching the word to a standing-room-only crowd. Meanwhile, four men who are unable to enter the home through the front door carry their paralyzed companion up the outside staircase and onto the flat roof so that their friend can enter the house in an unconventional way. They tear open the roof and let their friend down through it. Matthew leaves the hole in the roof and other similar details out to get right to the heart of the miracle: “And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’

Faith and forgiveness are the two key concepts. First, Jesus takes note of and commends their faith. Like the leper and the centurion of chapter 8, these five men didn’t question in their hearts whether Jesus could heal, only whether he would heal. So, they took a bold step of faith, no matter the social or material cost, to see what would happen. Jesus saw this faith, and he was pleased. Throughout this Gospel, he is always pleased to see the faith the Holy Spirit alone produces.

As we will see throughout Matthew, faith shows itself not so much by what one knows or feels, but by what one does in response to Christ. These men completely trusted that Jesus was sufficient. That’s why they acted the way they acted. Like the centurion in chapter 8, they trusted that Jesus only needed to say the word to make the healing happen. That is always the hidden miracle behind the open and obvious miracles. That kind of faith comes only as a gift from the Holy Spirit. That gifting is always the first miracle. That gifting is what raises The Walking Dead into the newness of true life.

First, we see faith at work. Second, we see forgiveness. Instead of an immediate miracle, such as immediately touching the leper, speaking words of healing for a servant, and touching Peter’s mother-in-law to take away a fever, or immediately calming the sea and casting out legions of demons, here he immediately forgives sin. “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Imagine the initial shock! Think of the disappointment! Why didn’t he heal this man physically? You can almost hear what all the people in the room are thinking.

Many Christian writers who have been successful building attractional model churches write a great deal about the need for the church to be relevant. We need to meet people where they are. We need to discover their felt needs (loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, longings) and use those needs to bring people into a saving relationship with Jesus. Those ideas make sense on a certain level, and it rings of kindness and understanding. It’s also an extremely successful model. However, that looks nothing like Jesus’ philosophy of ministry in this text. His approach was very different.

We can imagine this poor paralyzed man had many felt needs. In his day he was a social outcast. There were no mandatory building codes for wheelchair accessibility. There were no wheelchairs. There were no special care centers or rehab facilities. There was no group therapy. There was no sympathy. He was not considered worthy to enter the temple and commune with God and his fellow Jews. In general, paralytics were lonely, helpless, and hurting people. Just think for a minute about what his felt needs might have been. Then add on all his real physical needs. This was a desperate man.

So, if you are a first-time reader of Matthew, you would expect Jesus to have great compassion for this man, barely able to raise his head, longing for a cure. You would expect Jesus to meet this man’s most obvious and immediate felt need without delay. That is, after all, what Jesus has done for every other person who has come to him in desperate faith. But what do we get? Jesus has the apparent audacity and cruelty to gloss over the most obvious need.

Rather than simply heal the man, first he says, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (9:2). How inappropriate and insensitive! And yet it is a calculatedly outrageous statement for which Jesus is well known. It may be that Jesus had particular knowledge of this man’s sins and their relationship to his condition. Scripture occasionally speaks of illness and misfortunes as being the result of sin. But the most likely situation, judging from the context, is that, like any naturally sinful human being, this man needed his sins to be forgiven.

Imagine it this way. If you were in a serious car accident and rushed to the hospital, would you prefer the physician tended to your broken toe before addressing your subdural hematoma? Obviously, the bleeding brain injury is far more serious and life threatening. Here Jesus, the great physician, shows both his compassion and his diagnostic skills by treating this man’s greatest need first. This poor man had never even known the type and shadow of forgiveness offered in the Old Testament because he was not fit to enter the temple and offer sacrifices.

Jesus stops the spiritual bleeding of the soul caused by the condition of sin into which we are all born. To merely cure this man’s body would have been an immediate but impermanent solution. Restoring his health would save him from decades of suffering, but to restore his soul would save him from an eternity of suffering whatever became of his body. Jesus’ authoritative declaration of forgiveness was not what the paralytic and his friends wanted to hear (it certainly wasn’t what the scribes wanted to hear), but it was what they needed to hear. It is what we all need to hear as well. That is why every Sunday we publicly and privately declare our sins and publicly receive an assurance of pardon. Our felt needs or physical needs may be desperate, but they will never be as desperate as our need for forgiveness.


But our story doesn’t stop there. Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness in verse 2 creates an unexpected twist in verses 3, 4. The action makes an abrupt shift from the needs of the paralytic to the thoughts of the religious authorities. We might say it shifts from the physical paralytic to the spiritual paralytics, “the scribes.” Some of these scribes say to themselves, “This man is blaspheming” (9:3).

Now before we start acting out our relative morality by comparing our theological brilliance to the scribes, we need to sit in their seats for a minute. We need to try and understand their perspective. One thing was clear in Jewish theology. Sin could only be forgiven by bringing an offering to God in the temple. Yet this paralytic brings no sin offering to the temple. He cannot even enter the temple. There is no sin offering, no priest, no altar, no temple.

So it is no wonder these men schooled in the law “said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’” Mark adds the explanation they give to themselves, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2: 6, 7). If only God can forgive sins, which the Hebrew Bible everywhere states, then what is this man Jesus up to? Who does this man think he is? Does he think he is God (John 10:33)?

The scribes are not bumbling idiots. They were thinking rightly about this rabbi, Jesus, for if God alone can forgive sins, Jesus is either claiming to be God or is guilty of blasphemy. And looking at this unimpressive merely human person of flesh and blood, they naturally land upon blasphemy. In their view Jesus is guilty of claiming to stand in the place of God and to exercise God’s power to forgive.

Only God can forgive sins. Jesus has just claimed to forgive sins. He is clearly a man. Therefore, he is guilty of blasphemy, which according to Leviticus 24:10-16, is a capital offence. Therefore, Jesus must die! This is how their logic unfolds in the gospel accounts. Months later, when Jesus was standing before the Jewish Council, comprised of the high priest, the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes (26:57), the council will rule that Jesus must die for his blasphemy.

Like sharp shooters with their target in sight, the scribes were eyeing Jesus. As the gospel story unfolds, they will take the shot and tragically kill the most innocent man to ever live. On the face of it, their judgment was good. But it was not good enough. Jesus warns them here not to be trigger-happy and dresses them down for the slight inaccuracy of their aim:

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic— “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.

Although Jesus had no formal education in philosophy, he demonstrated a masterful use of the art of argument, an a fortiori argument to be precise. If something more difficult can be achieved, then this guarantees the validity of the claim of something less difficult. If the greater is true, the lesser is also true. It is easy to say that the man’s sins are forgiven because there is no empirical verification, nothing visible to confirm the proclamation because the proclamation is strictly spiritual. But telling a paralytic to get up and walk would have immediate visible, verifiable consequences.

Since there was no visible way to test the reality of forgiveness, but an easy way to test the reality of his authority to heal, Jesus proved he had the power and authority to forgive sin by healing the paralyzed man. He demonstrated his divine authority in both word and deed. He commanded the paralytic to rise, pick up his bed, and go home. And that was exactly what happened.

Consider this miracle for a moment. Out of this crowd of people gathered in this house in Capernaum, how many did Jesus heal? We have no idea. Matthew singles out only one man. Why only one? Only one was needed to make the point. Jesus makes his point in verse 6, “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.

When we read the miracle stories of Jesus, we have to be careful not to miss the point. In this text, just when we may think we have our finger on its message, Jesus bids us to look carefully again. We may point to this passage and say it is primarily about how Jesus can heal (v.7) No, it’s not about that. We point again and say it is primarily about the type of faith necessary to bring about such healing (v.2). No. It’s not about that either. What it is about is Christ’s authority and ability to forgive sins! If you miss that, you’ve missed everything.

Jesus is the Son of Man who has authority on earth. That means there is no more need for a temple on earth, a sacrificial system on earth, or a priesthood on earth to make those sacrifices in the temple. The Son of Man now has authority on earth to forgive sins. What can wash away our sins? The temple? The priests? The blood of bulls and goats? “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” The forgiveness of sin is our deepest need, and through Christ it is God’s highest achievement.


When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” Jesus wanted these scribes and this crowd to “know” (9:6) this invisible reality for themselves. He wanted them to know and experience his right and authority by which he forgives sins. And he wanted them to experience the forgiveness of sins itself. But, as usual, the crowd and the scribes missed the point.

However, this is not obvious from the text itself. At first glance, verse eight seems to be a positive conclusion. The people were filled with awe and wonder, and they glorified God. That sounds positive enough until we realize that this glorification of God is somewhat superficial. It does not mean they recognize Jesus’ true identity or that they recognized his authority to forgive sins. This is a small religious community. No one doubted when the paralytic took up his bed and paraded home. They knew something miraculous and amazing had just happened.

They rightly and naturally responded with terror or amazement and gave credit to God. Yet similar to the declaration at the end of other miracle stories, this seemingly positive declaration contains everything except the one thing necessary: trust into the person and work if Christ. Their response lacked faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the true and final source to whom we go to receive forgiveness of sin.

When you were a child, you may have used that famous but most often unsuccessful argument to your parents: “But everyone else is doing it.” Likely, your parents understood that the crowd is not always a valid indication of whether or not an activity was wise or profitable. The same is true in the Bible. We often find that the crowd rarely knows what they’re saying or doing. That is particularly true in Matthew’s Gospel where we know for certain that the crowd is not to be followed. The Greek word for “crowd” is oxlos. For Matthew, there is a whole theology behind this simple two-syllable noun.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he is rarely without a large crowd surrounding him. The crowd forms the audience for his teaching, and the crowds are often the object of his miraculous compassion. Yet it is this same crowd whom Matthew never once describes as corporately turning to Christ in repentance and trust. They may be amazed. They may give generic worship or lip service to God. But the crowd never turns to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.

Now you may think I’m being too hard on this poor crowd. But if you think I am being hard and stretching verse 8 beyond its bounds, you should hear what Jesus will say of this crowd later in 11:23, 24:

23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

This crowd in Capernaum saw Jesus in the flesh more than any other group in history. Our Lord considered their city to be “his own city” (9:1). They heard Jesus’ sermons live and in person. With their own eyes they witnessed his miracles. Yes, they were amazed. Yes, they were astonished. Yes, they were filled with awe. But they were never filled with trust. The crowd was never converted. The crowd never came to Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.

The point is that being amazed with Jesus is not enough! If you want to follow a crowd, don’t follow this one. If you want to follow a crowd, follow the one at Pentecost, who was cut to the heart after hearing Peter’s powerful sermon about “this Jesus whom you crucified” that “God has made… both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2: 36b, 37a).

The Jerusalem crowd said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins’” (Acts 2:37b, 38a). Then what happened? They did just that, “and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41b). Do you want to join a crowd? That’s fine, but don’t join the one in Capernaum. Join the one in Jerusalem. Repent, believe, and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.


If you have a terrible skin disease like leprosy, I can’t promise you that Jesus will heal you. If you have a child or someone you love who is dying, I can’t promise you that Jesus will cure them. If you have a fever, I can’t promise you Jesus will cool it. If you are paralyzed, I can’t promise you that Jesus will heal you.

But if you are a sinner who knows that you are as helpless as a crippled man lowered through a ceiling on a mat, I can promise you that if you trust into the person and work of the crucified, buried, resurrected, and ascended Lord Jesus Christ – the ultimate display of his power and authority and compassion – he will forgive your sins!

It’s not that Jesus can’t deal with whatever physical issues with which you and I are dealing. He certainly has the power and at times the willingness, as clearly shown in Matthew 8, 9. It’s not that Jesus can’t or won’t deal with all that ails us on the outside. But his priority is dealing with what ails is on the inside. Forgiveness is our deepest need. This world needs forgiveness more than we need a cure for cancer, and such forgiveness is what God offers to us in the gospel, which is truly his highest achievement – the forgiveness of sins through the perfect life, the sacrificial blood-shedding death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.[4]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 9:1–8.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 146.

[3] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Preaching the Word) (p. 231). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 9:11–15.