The Power of the Son of Man
Dr. Lewis Johnson, Jr., is a Bible teacher at Believers Chapel, Dallas.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:1-8
John Chrysostom, one of the greatest of the early expositors of Holy Scripture, in explaining the domiciles of our Lord during His ministry upon earth, said, “Bethlehem bare Him, Nazareth nurtured Him, Capernaum had Him continuously as an inhabitant.” When Matthew says that “He came into his own city” (Matt. 9:1), he refers to Capernaum. Mark confirms the point, for he writes, describing the same incident, “And again he entered into Capernaum after some days” — (cf. Mark 2:1). So, it is at Capernaum that this remarkable healing occurred, which so beautifully illustrates the power of the Son of Man.
Matthew’s Gospel, as many have noted, contains a carefully wrought out plan and purpose. There are no loose ends in his purpose of presenting the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, the King of Israel. And in this chapter there is further evidence of this. It is here that one begins to notice official opposition to the ministry of the King, and we have the first hint of the legal charges that will be preferred against Him. “And behold, certain of the Scribes said within themselves, THIS MAN BLASPHEMETH” (v. 3), is the clue to this. In the twenty-sixth chapter is the climax. There the Lord Jesus confesses His Messiahship before the Sanhedrin, provoking the high priest to tear his clothes and cry out, “HE HATH SPOKEN BLASPHEMY! What further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard HIS BLASPHEMY” (Matt. 26:65). Thus, in the charge of blasphemy in this chapter we have the anticipation of the final charge that led to His death.
In fact, there are four charges made against the Lord Jesus in this chapter, according to some commentators. First, as we have said, He is accused of blasphemy. And then, second, He is accused of immorality (cf. 9:10-13), for he sits with tax-gatherers and sinners. Third, He is accused of laxity in piety, for it is noticed that He does not fast as John’s disciples (cf. vv. 14-17). And, finally, He is accused of being in league with the devil when He cures the dumb demoniac (cf. vv. 31-34). These charges constitute the beginning of the organized campaign against the Lord. “The slanderers are at work; the whispering tongues are poisoning truth; the wrong motives are being ascribed. The drive to eliminate this disturbing Jesus has begun,” Barclay contends.1
The healing of the paralytic is a story with several lessons. In the first place, it provides us with an example of our Lord giving before we ask, for His first words to the paralytic are, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (v. 2). It is after this word that He heals him.
In the second place, we are provided with an example of acclamation turning to opposition, as Scroggie points out, “Here dawn gives way to morning, and acclamation to opposition. The day is progressing, but the temperature is lowering. Hosanna soon turns to crucify. The people who said of Paul and Barnabas, ‘the gods are come down to us in the likeness of men,’ almost immediately ‘stoned Paul, and drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead.’ That’s the way of the world, and the Church is not without stain. And yet, when we come to think of it, the friendship and goodwill of the world is not an honour. We cannot have JESUS AND BARABBAS FOR FRIENDS AT THE SAME TIME.”2
But the greatest lesson of the incident has to do with the Messianic power of the Son of Man. It is here that we learn that without question He has the power to forgive sins. That divine prerogative is His.
1. The Presence of the Lord
The people (cf. Luke 5:17). It is Luke who tells us most plainly that there were present Pharisees, scribes, and the multitudes (cf. Matt. 9:8). In fact, Mark tells us that the crowds were so large about the door of the house in which the Lord was ministering that no one could enter. And, when the four came bearing the paralytic on a pallet; it was necessary for them to uncover a portion of the roof and let the man down through the roof before the Lord (cf. Mark 2:2-4).
The Person (Matt. 9:1-2). Where He is present there is power, and this occasion was no exception, as Luke says, “and the power of the Lord was present for him to heal them” (5:17). Mark says that “He preached the word unto them” (2:2). In the light of the message of the Lord during the early days of His ministry we may assume that it corresponded to the message reported by Matthew, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand” (4:17). It was the message of the coming Reign of God, the Messianic Age, which was near at hand for the King is now present with Israel.
The Paralytic and Companions
Impotence in the presence of omnipotence. Both Luke and Mark give the details of the bringing of the paralytic to the Lord through the agency of four companions. Finding it impossible to reach Him by way of the door, they ingeniously let him down into the presence of the Lord by removing tiling from the roof of the house. The New Testament prescribes no one way to bring men to Christ, and this incident seems to substantiate the use of a variety of methods, providing they do not contradict the principles of the Word of God. As Scroggie puts it, “If conventionality does not succeed, then try originality.”3 And it is true that there is no ingenuity quite like that of earnestness and genuineness in the love of the lost.
The impotence of the paralytic, who cannot come of himself to the Lord, beautifully illustrates the truth that we, are dead in our sins, unable to come to Him in our own strength. But impotence finds its fullness in the omnipotence of the Son of Man. What we cannot do, He can do for us.
Originality instead of conventionality. We have already commented upon this, but perhaps we may also note that the four men who carried the paralytic evidently had experienced His healing and forgiving ministry beforehand. At least, they had heard of Him and His work. In the earnestness of their evangelistic ministry they remind us of Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. John, describing his desire to see Peter find the Messiah, writes, “He FIRST findeth his own brother, Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (cf. John 1:41). And there follows the touching words, “And he brought him to Jesus,” the greatest thing that one man can do for another.
III. The Pardon of the Lord
The condition of the paralytic (9:2). The Lord’s words to the paralytic, “be of good cheer, child,” appear to imply that the man knew the guilt and burden of sin and despaired of hope to some extent.
The means of the pardon (9:2). The means of the healing of the paralytic is clearly faith, but whose faith? The text says, “Jesus, seeing THEIR faith.” Barclay contends, “Here is a wonderful picture of a man who was saved by the faith of his friends.”4 That seems highly unlikely to me. Why must we limit the pronoun “their” to the four? Is it not more natural to refer it to the five, the four who brought the paralytic and the paralytic himself? “Their,” Scroggie points out, “would seem to refer to the faith of all five, for the four would not bring the paralytic against his will.”5 I think he’s right.
The story, then, is in harmony with the uniform teaching of the New Testament, namely, that faith is the instrumentality of God’s bestowal of His blessings, particularly that of salvation (cf. Rom. 3:21-26; 4:1-8).
The manner of the pardon. The declaration of forgiveness comes in the form of a statement from the Son, “thy sins be forgiven thee” (9:2). It is by the Word of the Son that the pardon comes (cf. Jas. 1:21).
IV. The Pharisees’ and Scribes’ Reaction
It was the belief of the times that all sickness was caused by sin, and perhaps this is the reason that Jesus began to deal with the sins of the paralytic before He . healed him. Otherwise one might have expected the physical healing first. Our Lord’s actions seem to confirm the view that He traced the man’s physical condition to sin.
“There is always a fly in the ointment,” Scroggie says. “There never was a congregation where there was not a critic and, too often, criticism comes from those who might be expected to rejoice.”6 The students of Scripture object to the course of events. They “reasoned” (cf. Mark 2:6) within themselves over the meaning of the Lord’s words, regarding His claim to forgive sins as blasphemy, “who can forgive sins but God only” (2:7)? But the premise of the scribes was wrong. It is true that God alone forgives sins, but it was not necessarily true that this man was blaspheming. Suppose He were God! Robertson puts it this way, “It was, they held, blasphemy for Jesus to assume this divine prerogative. Their logic was correct. The only flaw in it was the possibility that Jesus held a peculiar relation to God that justified his claim.”7 Sometimes, dependence upon human reasoning is not the sign of intellectuality, but of a shrivelled soul. Human reasoning has been affected by sin, and it cannot be trusted if it is not dependent upon the illumination of the Spirit of God.
Jesus, being omniscient, knows their thoughts and responds to them, “Why think ye evil in your hearts? (v. 4) .
V. The Problem Proposed
At this point, in order to expose the faulty reasoning of the unbelieving scribes, Jesus suggests a test. The proposal of the Lord is a masterpiece. They were saying within their hearts, “It’s one thing to say sins are forgiven, it’s quite another to really forgive them. Only God can do that.” So, to settle the matter, the test in the physical realm is proposed to show the power of the Son of Man in the spiritual. He could only perform the physical miracle of healing, if God were with Him. He could never perform it if God were against Him, and if His claims were false. Therefore, He asks, “For which is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But 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” (Matt. 9:5-6).
Actually the correct answer is: Neither are easier. Both are impossible with men and easy with God. Of course, it is easier to say superficially, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”
VI. The Power Healing
At the Lord’s words, “Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house” (v. 6), the paralytic arose and departed to his home. As Bengel said a long time ago, “The bed had borne the man, now the man was bearing the bed.” The pallet brought the paralytic, but it is he who is now carrying it away (cf. Mark 2:12). And this mighty miracle is only a sign of what He is able to do for all who call upon him for spiritual healing.
I would imagine that, while no room had been made for the men to bring the paralytic to Jesus, after the miracle room was made for him to go!
This is now the second time that Matthew has used the expression, “Son of Man” (cf. 8:20). A word about its significance is in order. It is commonly thought that it is simply an expression designed to emphasize the humanity of the Lord Jesus, just as the term, “Son of God,” stresses His diety. That is only partially true. The Messianic King of Israel is a man, but He is more than a man, so it is not surprising to learn that the term Son of Man has its origin in the Messianic passage of Daniel 7:13. There it refers to the Son of Man who comes to the Ancient of Days to receive dominion, and glory, and A KINGDOM, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away (cf. Dan. 7:13-13). Thus, the term is really a royal term, marking him out as the Messianic King. It is very fitting that it should be used of Him before He receives the kingdom, for that is the picture in Daniel. So we are not surprised to learn that this is Jesus’ favourite term for Himself. After the cross, resurrection, and ascension it practically disappears from the New Testament, for the expression is used of Him as He ministers in the light of the coming kingdom.
It is, therefore, by His own right as the King that He forgives sins. He has AUTHORITY to do that in his realm. When Nathan, the prophet, forgives sins, it is, “The LORD hath put away thy sin” (2 Sam. 12:13), for Nathan is only a man. With Jesus it is altogether different.
The term, after Caesarea Philippi, is combined with the thought of the Servant of Jehovah and, therefore, the idea of suffering becomes associated with the idea of sovereignty. It is as the Suffering Servant of Jehovah that the King accomplishes His task of redemption and prepares to rule.
This thought of authority and power is confirmed by the fact that the term “power” is found twice in the closing words (cf. vv. 6, 8).
VII. The Product of the Power
The first conflict with the hierarchy concludes with the paralytic walking away under his own power, testifying to the mighty power of the Son of Man. Luke writes, “And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that on which he lay, and departed to his own house, GLORIFYING GOD” (5:25).
Further, the multitudes also “glorified God” (5:26), but their glorifying was touched with fear, for they had become partakers of the revelation of the mighty authority of the Messianic King. They were saying, “We have seen strange things today” (5:26). The word rendered, “strange,” is the Greek word paradoxos, which means marvelous, or incredible. It is the word from which comes our English word paradox, which refers to a statement that seems contradictory, unbelievable, or absurd, but that may actually be true in fact.
The great lesson that shines through the healing of the paralytic is the power and authority of the Son of Man to FORGIVE SINS, and the amazing work of power, the healing of the paralytic, was done to confirm His claim to forgive sins. That power is still His today, as all the apostles affirm. Peter’s “Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee well; arise, and make thy bed” (Acts 9:34), Paul’s “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13), and John’s, “the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), all testify to the saving power. May God bring us all to the experience of this mighty, amazing, and astonishing power!
1 Barclay, I, 332.
2 W. Graham Scroggie, The Gospel of Mark, Study Hour Commentaries (Grand Rapids, 1976 (reprinted), pp. 46-47.
3 Ibid., p. 48.
4 Barclay, I, 333.
5 Scroggie, p. 48.
6 Ibid., p. 49.
7 Robertson, 1, 268.