Ask Bob # 81: “Why did Jesus forgive before healing?”
The story of Jesus healing the paralytic carried by his friends is found in three of the gospels. You can read it in Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, and Luke 5:17-26. In all three accounts, Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven before he healed him. I’ve heard teachers say that Jesus often forgave sins as the higher priority before healing someone, but that’s difficult to prove from the Bible. There are so many times when Jesus healed someone without making any reference to their sins at all. My theory is that because this one story is in three different gospels, readers get the impression that Jesus did it this way a lot.
So the short answer to your question is that there’s no required connection between forgiveness and healing. But on this occasion, Jesus did tell the man his sins were forgiven before he healed him. Rather than being the normal course of events, it’s noteworthy because it was unusual. So let’s dig a little deeper into the circumstances of this particular day…
In the case of this man, Jesus chose to put something ahead of the man’s physical healing, and all three gospel writers thought it was important enough to mention. “Your sins are forgiven.”
We might wonder why Jesus dealt with the man’s sin first. Well, to answer that, let’s look at how people viewed sin in Jesus’ day…
Do you remember what happened when Jesus saw a man who had been blind from birth?
“His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” (John 9:2)
Jesus’ closest followers – the Twelve – saw a cause-and-effect relationship at work. But in the very next verse, Jesus said that, in this case, there was no cause-and-effect relationship whatsoever.
Next, consider also this passage (excerpts copied here) from Luke 13:1-5:
“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! … Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!’”
It’s easy to see why Jesus’ disciples thought there was a cause-and-effect relationship in all misfortune, with sin being the cause. It was a common point of view.
Now, let’s look at what Jesus knows about people, human nature, the paralytic, and you and me:
“Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said…” (Matthew 9:4)
“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them…” (Matthew 12:25)
“Jesus, knowing their thoughts…” (Luke 9:47)
“But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” (John 2:24-25)
So Jesus didn’t always tell people their sins were forgiven before he healed them, but he said it to this paralytic. Jesus knew his heart.
Let’s consider: what if the paralytic felt that his condition was the result of some sin? What if he felt it was his fault – even if it wasn’t? (“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”)
Dear Reader, have you ever felt that some misfortune in your life was a punishment from God for a sin, or a way of life, in your past? Then you understand the paralytic. Even if Jesus healed him, he would still believe he was worthless.
Jesus speaks to you, and tells you what you need to hear first.
Your sins are forgiven.
Yes. Your sins are forgiven.
Jesus takes care of things in the proper order, at the proper time. He knows. He knows if you condemn yourself, and he knows if you think God condemns you.
Listen to Jesus, right now, as he speaks love and life and forgiveness to you.
And be healed.