Mark Strauss says Jesus’ miracles were not “showy demonstrations of power or even proof of his identity. They are manifestations of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, a foretaste and preview of the restoration of creation promised by God” (Four Portraits, 466). I agree Jesus did not do miracles simply to draw a crowd or entertain people. While Strauss is correct the miracles are indications the Kingdom of God is present in the ministry of Jesus, in most cases Jesus did a miracle in order to reveal something about himself as the Messiah. This is slightly different than “proof of identity” since none are strictly speaking proof Jesus is the Messiah or his ministry is an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. They are hints toward the truth for those who “have eyes to see” (Matt 13:14-15).
The healing in Mark 2 is an example of a miracle as self-revelation. Jesus heals a crippled man, but the reason he does so is to reveal something about who he is to both the outsiders (Pharisees and scribes) but also to the insiders (his disciples who already believe) and the larger crowd who are in-between these two extremes. The challenge of this miracle is: “Who is this man, Jesus?”
Jesus returns to Capernaum and attracts a very large crowd at Peter’s home. A paralytic is brought to Jesus by some friends to be healed. Since they cannot enter the home because of the crowd, the men go onto the roof and break a hole large enough to lower the man on a pallet into room where Jesus was. The roof of a typical home at the time of Jesus was a sun dried mud thatch, so the very “to dig” is quite appropriate.
There was a relationship between sins and birth defects in the minds of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus may be attacking this misconception of sin by forgiving the sin without healing the man. In the ancient world, an extreme illness or birth defects was considered to be the result of sin, either on the part of the sick person or on the part of the person’s parents or grandparents. (The disciples ask about a blind man in John 9:1-2.) Not only do all the people observing this believe this to be true, but the man himself probably believed that his sickness was the result of sin.
Forgiveness of sin and healing typically go together in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Period Judaism. In 2 Chron 7:14, God forgives the sins of Israel and “heals their land.” Similarly, Psalm 103:3 connects forgiveness with the healing of disease, and in Isaiah 19:22 the Lord responds to Israel, hears their pleas and heals the nation.
It is most startling to notice that Jesus claims to forgive sin by his own authority. This is the action of Jesus that elicits the strong reaction from the religious leaders that are observing Jesus’ actions. He did not say, for example, “in the name of God your sins are forgiven,” but rather simply, “your sins are forgiven.” Jesus himself is forgiving the sins as if he were the one offended by them.
Jesus says to the teachers of the law: Which is easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘rise and walk’?” It is just as easy to say one as the other. Jesus point is that saying is the easy part, doing is the difficult part. Jesus says that he will not only forgive the man’s sins, but he will heal him, so that the teachers of the Law might know that he has the authority to do those things. There is a significant bit of theology packed into this statement. Authority is power, ability, and permission to do something.
Jesus healed in order to signal the beginning of the messianic age and to prove to the Jewish leadership that he was the Messiah. That Jesus calls himself the Son of Man in this section important since it is likely an allusion to Daniel 7, where “someone like a son of man” is given authority to rule. In a sense, Jesus is drawing together three lines of evidence for his divinity. He forgives sin, he is about to heal a lame man, and he claims to be the Messianic Son of Man.
If we were to examine all of the healing miracles in the Gospels, we might find they all are some sort of self-revelation by Jesus. Other than general statements that Jesus healed many people, are there any healing stories that do not reveal something about Jesus’ nature and/or the nature of the Kingdom of God?
What other healing-miracles in the Gospels reveal something about who Jesus is?