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They have always puzzled me and I fail to understand what is what.

Luke 5:20-23

When Jesus saw their faith he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Then the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to think to themselves, “Who is this man who is uttering blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their hostile thoughts, he said to them, “Why are you raising objections within yourselves? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?

Knowing that Jesus is Son of God: what is the difference between these two sentences, which prompted Jesus to say them? Which statement is the easier to say?

It is becomes more puzzling when Jesus says the second sentence.

Luke 5:24-25

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralyzed man – “I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher and go home.” Immediately he stood up before them, picked up the stretcher he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God.

It is not clear whether Jesus said the easier one or the tougher one. Why He did not say the first: that is, “your sins are forgiven?”

Is it that this sentence was easier to say?

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Jesus is here asking the Pharisees a rhetorical question, that is - what would be easier for him to say if he was not God. The answer is simple - it is easier for a mere man to say "Your sins are forgiven", because there is no outward immediate manifestation. It is much more difficult to say "Stand up and walk", because it would be readily apparent that Jesus was not able to back up his power, were he only a man.

As John Gill writes:

Neither of them could be said by a mere man, with effect, so as that sins would be really remitted on so saying; or that a man sick of a palsy, by such a word speaking, would be able to stand upon his feet and walk; but both of them were equally easy to him, that is truly God; and he that could say the one effectually, could also say the other: or in other words, he that could cure a man of a palsy with a word speaking, ought not to be charged with blasphemy, for taking upon him to forgive sin: our Lord meant, by putting this question, and acting upon it, to prove himself to be God, and to remove the imputation of blasphemy from him

When Jesus says the second part, that is:

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralyzed man – “I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher and go home.”

He is demonstrating to the Pharisees that he is who he says he is, that he has the power to forgive and the power to heal.

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    Wow. It’s too apparent now. Every time when I used to come across these verses I used to get bogged down, figuring what it could be. Thanks for enlightening me. – Seek forgiveness Mar 5 '13 at 6:33
  • Welcome to the site. +1 Good answer. – Narnian Mar 5 '13 at 17:45
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    @Narnian - thanks! Been around for awhile, just now got around to actually participating. – SSumner Mar 5 '13 at 18:03
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In this story, it is important to note that people in that culture often associated illness with God's judgment. In John 9, the disciples ask Jesus "Who sinned?" when they see a man who was blind from birth. So, someone with an illness or handicap not only had to deal with the ailment, but also burden of wondering what sin caused them to be experiencing the judgment of God.

Illness and disability is the result of sin in general (original sin)--not necessarily a specific sin (although certain sins can expose an individual to risk).

Jesus sees through the physical need to the spiritual need and addresses that first. However, in forgiving a person's sins, there is no visible evidence that anyone else could observe to verify His authority to do so.

If Jesus were, in fact, God, however, He could not only forgive the sin itself, but would also have the power over the effects of sin. Jesus proves His authority over the effects of sin by physically healing the man, proving that He also has the authority to forgive the man of his sins as will, which is a spiritual issue.

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Beyond the things that have already been mentioned about the phrases Jesus uses, one of the things I find particularly interesting about this healing in Luke is that the order of physical and spiritual healing are reversed, compared to what we usually see in the gospel narratives.

Specifically, in the gospel accounts, Jesus usually heals individuals in a physical way first. This often then leads the recipient of the healing or the observers to recognize a deeper spiritual power in Jesus and sometimes leads to a decision to follow Jesus.

There are multiple such examples:

  • Jesus raising Jairus' daughter from the dead in Luke 8, causing her parents to be astonished.
  • Jesus healing the crippled woman in the synagogue in Luke 13, who then rises up to praise God, in the company of the Pharisees.
  • Jesus healing the blind beggar in Luke 18, who then follows after Jesus.
  • And perhaps my favorite example, Jesus healing the blind man sent to the pool of Siloam, who then re-encounters Jesus after his physical healing and worships him as Lord.

In short, in addition to the way Luke 5 demonstrates Jesus' authority and power, as has been previously mentioned, I think the ordering of Jesus' statements and actions also offer a fascinating commentary on illness and sin.

As I mentioned previously, usually Jesus heals the body first, then spiritually. Here, Jesus heals spiritually (forgives sins), then physically (restores the function in the man's legs). There are potentially some interesting implications here to the age-old and difficult question of what is the relationship between sin and illness. Here, the gospel presents us with a man fully forgiven of his sins directly by Jesus, yet still physically deformed (until Jesus performs the physical healing later).

In summary, I do believe that this interesting story and the unique ordering of Jesus' statements might also shed a little additional beautiful light on the question of suffering and what it means to be healed.

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