Matthew records that early in Jesus’ ministry, He returned to Capernaum, His home base (4:13) and the site of some of His first miracles (8:5-17):
Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men (Matthew 9:1-8).
This scene teaches us the important role miracles played in the ministry of Jesus. Of course, the miracles alleviated the suffering of God’s children. For that reason, we still pray that God would place His omnipotent and loving hands upon us.
But there are many of God’s children who do not receive healing, or do not receive it right away. Such experiences should never lead us to think that God does not love us or has grown weak. I am reminded of Trophimus, who Paul “left sick at Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20). I am reminded of Paul, who prayed three times for relief from a “thorn in the flesh,” and received the reply, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Thus, we agree that wellness is wonderful! But we see that miracles had a higher purpose than just helping the debilitated bodies of the saints.
Forgiving sins is something God alone can do. Thus, Jesus here claimed equality with God, claimed to be God. That is an assertion that cannot really be proven without additional testimony. Anyone who popped up today and claimed to be God would rightly be run out of town by most people. Indeed, the Jews were right to accuse Jesus of blasphemy … unless Jesus is in fact who He claimed to be.
In John 5:32, Jesus said, “There is another who testifies of Me.” He pointed to John the Baptist’s testimony (5:33-35). He pointed higher, to the testimony of Scripture, which revealed His coming and nature from centuries past (5:39-47). And Jesus also pointed to the testimony of God Himself, specifically that “the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me” (5:36-38).
Many other passages support this notion, that the number one reason that Jesus and His followers performed miracles was to prove their authority as God’s spokesmen. “Signs” from God (Mark 16:17) were to draw attention to the new message of salvation.
Nicodemus … came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi ,we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him” (John 3:1-2).
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know… (Acts 2:22).
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing (Acts 8:5-6).
They spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands (Acts 14:3).
How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:3-4).
This is the reason Jesus asked the question. He knew the answer already, of course. It’s much harder to publicly and instantly declare a paralyzed man healed than to declare his sins forgiven. It’s like actually jumping off a bridge instead of just claiming to be able to fly. One comes with physical confirmation, the other does not! Thus, the Jesus provided the Jews with clear proof that He had the authority not only to heal, but more importantly, as the divine Son of God, the authority to forgive sins! —John Guzzetta