“Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man. (Matthew 9:5-8, NIV)
Some men bring to Jesus a paralyzed man lying on a mat. They hope this wonder-working rabbi will heal their friend. But, when Jesus sees the faith of the men, he says something unexpected: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” He healed the man’s soul prior to healing his body, we might say.
But this perturbs the teachers of the law, who believe (rightly) that only God can forgive sins. Thus, they assume he is blaspheming by making himself God’s equal. (And indeed, he is claiming to be God here, but because he is God, it is not blasphemy.) How will Jesus convince them that he has authority to forgive sins?
The issue is that forgiveness is internal and spiritual, and thus invisible. So Jesus performs an external and physical act to make the invisible visible. Which is harder to say, that he’s healed the man’s body or forgiven the man’s sins? The former, of course, because that’s the one he has to prove, lest he out himself as a charlatan. Thus, he heals the man, and commands him to prove his healing by getting up and walking. Jesus is who he says he is, and does what he says he will do.
Notice, it is only at this point that the awe-struck crowd praises God. When they see the promised change, they praise the Promise-Maker.
Shouldn’t the same be true of our lives? We claim (rightly) that God has forgiven our sins in Jesus Christ. What proof do we offer to show that God is not a liar? We get up and walk. That is, having been raised to newness of life, we walk in Jesus’ footsteps by living lives of increasing holiness. Thus, there is a missional imperative to our holiness. We display Jesus’ power and goodness—that he is who he says he is, and does what he says he will do—when we live radically transformed lives.
When we consistently fail to walk worthy of our gospel calling, people around us will rightly question the truth of Christianity. However, when we “get up and walk,” awe-struck crowds will praise God. Jesus said as much (and we know he does what he says he will do!): “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).