So the scribes took offense at Jesus because he claimed to be able to forgive sins, which his healing of the man was meant to validate as true. There’s another question I want to ask about this story, and then after I ask it I want to apply all of this in a very personal way. The second question is this: Why did Jesus link this man’s physical suffering to his sin?
The reason I ask that question is because we know that on at least one other occasion Jesus explicitly disengaged the two. You recall that in the ninth chapter of John you have the story of the man who had been born blind. Jesus and his disciples were leaving the temple area, and as they went out this man was there by the temple gate where he was begging. It was a good place for him to be, because people who had been to church ought to have a generous spirit when they leave, if they really met with God.
As the disciples went out with Jesus, they saw the blind man, and wanted to know why he was born blind. Is he blind because he sinned, or is he blind because his parents sinned? Now we can understand how that might happen, at least in the second instance. We know that venereal disease, for example, will produce blindness. We don’t know if they knew that connection, but probably they knew something like that. But it’s a little harder to understand how the man’s blindness was due to his own sin, because he was born blind. Perhaps they thought that because God knew he was going to sin, God struck before he actually committed it. We are not told what was actually going on in their minds, but clearly they were assuming a connection between the man’s affliction and sin.
They were making the same kind of connection many Christians do when another Christian gets in trouble. Christians who have had terrible things happen to them can tell their story to another believer. And then they say to the afflicted brother or sister, “Well, God has given that to you to teach you a lesson. And what we have to do together is find out what it is you did.” Well, that’s what Job’s friends did with him. That’s not much comfort, even if it’s true. In the case of the blind man Jesus said it was not true. This was not why the man was born blind. It was not a case of his sin, nor a case of his parent’s sin. As a matter of fact, there was no direct connection between sin and suffering at all in this man’s case. He said, “Rather, this man was born blind simply so that at this point in history when I came by I could heal him and bring glory to God.”
Now you may find that hard to accept, and that is in some ways. It’s much easier to argue cause and effect, where the cause is sin and the effect is blindness. To say that this great suffering is all for the glory of God is harder for us to understand, yet that’s what Jesus said. So if in the case of the blind man from John 9 there was no connection between his sin and his suffering, why is it in the case of this paralytic in Matthew 9 that Jesus apparently just assumed the connection? Here’s a man who is paralyzed, and Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins be forgiven.” That is the equivalent of saying, “You will be healed.”
Now why is that? I put that as if that’s some profound mystery. It’s no profound mystery at all. The reason Jesus said it in this man’s case is that it was true. There was a connection between this man’s sin and his paralysis. And so when Jesus saw him and began to deal with him, he dealt with him not merely on the physical level, as important as that may be, but on the spiritual level, because that was primary. What Jesus really had to do was deal with his sin and provide forgiveness.
Now what I want to suggest, you see, is that this is the basic problem in the world today. What we do is try to ignore the sin and deal with the symptoms. Certainly we want to help the symptoms if we can. If people are suffering we want to deal with them. But you see, sin is the real problem. And the question is how do you deal with that? In our society we do a number of different things. Let me suggest some of the alternatives we choose.
One thing we try to do in our society is ignore it. We’ll do that in a variety of ways. As Harry Blamires explains, either we deal with it by looking to the past or we deal with it by looking to the future. People say that things are bad today, but they weren’t always that way, and they want to go back to what they call the “good old days.” Blamires says that’s merely an attempt to escape or ignore sin, because you don’t solve anything by going to the past because human nature was the same back then as it is today.
And then he says others want to focus on the future. They take an evolutionary approach to history and think that things are getting better and better, and therefore the future holds the promise for the kind of world they are looking for, when all of the problems we have in our day are going to be eradicated. Blamires says that’s an attempt to ignore sin also. The problem that we have to face is the problem of sin, and we don’t get anywhere by ignoring it.