Failing the test (Matthew 9:1-8)

It has been the case with the miracles in this section of Matthew that something happens that brings an element of testing into each situation. The leper had been tested as to whether he would obey God’s Word after he was healed and make a journey to Jerusalem to see the priest – he failed; the centurion was tested as to whether he thought Jesus should have to come to his home – he passed; the would-be disciples were tested as to whether they would follow Jesus immediately – they failed; and the inhabitants of Gadara were tested over whether they would value Jesus above their pigs – they failed. Now it is some scribes, the religious leaders, who are tested and they fail as well.
Right theology is a very good thing, but there are situations when right theology can be used in a wrong way. The scribes had right theology and one of their convictions was that only God could forgive a person all their sins in the sense of pardoning them. Their problem was that they did not know who God was, that he was standing there in front of them doing what only God should do. Obviously, they failed the test, but the God they did not know was willing to give them further instruction. What did Jesus do? He revealed to them things about himself, and at the same time about themselves.
First, Jesus revealed to the scribes that he could read their secret thoughts. After all, their criticisms had not been public. Rather they were talking to one another and complaining about what Jesus had claimed to have done, which was to pardon the man. Now they discovered that Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking and saying.
Second, Jesus asked them to answer a question about whether which one of two statements was the easier to say. Why does he do this? From one point of view, it was equally easy to say both statements. But Jesus is not referring to the ability to say something but to the authority to say something. Regarding both these statements, the scribes did not have the authority to say either even although they could say both. Jesus knew, however, that he had the authority to do both, whether or not he said them. Both statements ultimately require divine authority. Only God can forgive a sinner and only God can make a paralysed person walk. If one could do one, he would be able to do the other as well. Jesus had already forgiven the man, which was a divine action. Then he healed the man, which was a divine action. So, in addition to omniscience, Jesus revealed to the scribes that he was almighty.
Third, Jesus told them that he was the promised Messiah when he said that he was the Son of Man. As we know, this title comes from a prediction in the Book of Daniel in which the future reign of the Messiah is described. Jesus mentions a detail that the scribes, with their knowledge of the Old Testament, should have known. They should have said to themselves that here was the Messiah and therefore he had the authority to forgive sinners. It is possible that they would not have understood that prophecy in its fullness, but they should have realised that the One who knew their hearts was able to teach them.

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