And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
— Mark 2:4-5

What great friends this helpless man had to have gone to such great lengths to get him before Jesus! Ostensibly, they seek his physical healing. And Jesus delivers that, but not at first. Jesus says to the man first, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Why? Is it because the man’s sin was the cause of his paralysis? I don’t think so. Jesus himself speaks against such notions elsewhere (John 9:1-3; Luke 13:4).

I think it’s the same reason Jesus won’t be distracted by diversionary chit-chat with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). I think it’s the same reason why Jesus refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery but still sends her away with some choice words (John 8:11). I think it’s connected to the way this miracle-working Jesus keeps saying the reason he came was to preach (Mark 1:38, 2:2; Matthew 12:39), not perform miracles. It is because we can always count on Jesus to shoot us straight. He will always be honest with us about what we most need.

Think of how many times in prayer or study we bring a problem or issue to the Lord, and they are not things he won’t deal with or address, but they amount to subterfuges, conscious or unconscious, on our part from the real matters of our hearts. We often present things for Jesus to heal other than what he really means to get at in us. We love for Jesus to fix our circumstances and our pains, but we often don’t want him doing the invasive surgery his gospel is designed for. So we pile up the fig leaves.

What Jesus first says to the paralyzed man presented before him tells us that there are far worse things than being paralyzed all your life. And there are far better things than being healthy all your life.

Jesus gave the man the greatest gift he could receive: eternal pardon. The rest was gravy. Suppose Jesus had only healed the man’s body but not his soul? He might’ve danced until his dying day and then suffered for all eternity. Now suppose Jesus had not ladled that circumstantial miracle upon the eternal one, what would have happened? The man would have lived out his days still paralyzed, only to die and emerge in the resurrection to come with dancing legs he could never imagine.

When Jesus heals us physically and blesses us circumstantially, he is providing signposts to the scope of his atoning work, to the resurrection to come and the infinite bliss of the Lamb-lit new heavens and earth. He does not want us to terminate on the signs but the Signified. And this is also why he often denies us these circumstantial blessings.

The lessons Jesus teaches are hard, as they often involve great suffering, but they are for our joy, as they involve eternal life.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
— Matthew 6:33

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
— 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

How does God's Word impact our prayers?

God invites His children to talk with Him, yet our prayers often become repetitive and stale. How do we have a real conversation with God? How do we come to know Him so that we may pray for His will as our own?

In the Bible, God speaks to us as His children and gives us words for prayer—to praise Him, confess our sins, and request His help in our lives.

We’re giving away a free eBook copy of Praying the Bible, where Donald S. Whitney offers practical insight to help Christians talk to God with the words of Scripture.