HAVE YOU MET JESUS? The Men Who Crashed The Party
Jesus was in Capernaum.
The Bible says that He had come home. We don’t know whose home it was, but more than likely, it was the house which belonged to Simon Peter. In any case, word got out that Jesus was teaching and healing there. The result was that crowds flocked to that house filling up all the rooms and spilling out onto the street. At that point, four men carrying a stretcher entered the scene. On the stretcher was a fifth man, a man who was paralyzed. The four men carrying the stretcher pushed and shoved their way through this swirling sea of humanity but soon realized that they could not make it into the house. They stopped for a moment’s consultation to try to figure out what to do next. Then, having reached what must have been a unanimous decision, they climbed up the outdoor staircase which led to the roof of the house.
Back then, Palestinian homes always had such a staircase providing access to the flat roof which was used as a place to dry flax and ripen fruit and, also, was a place to spend some quiet time in the cool of the evening. So these men carried their paralyzed friend up to the roof and then proceeded to tear a great gaping hole in that roof through which they intended to let their friend down into the presence of Jesus. Now that is not quite as destructive as it first appears. You see, the roofs of Palestinian homes were quite simple in construction—wooden beams placed atop the walls in parallel form about three feet apart, covering the beams a thick layer of tightly woven reeds, rushes, and palm fronds, and then over it all a thin layer of mud baked hard by the sun. So a roof in those days was rather easily made or remade.
The Bible says that these four men opened a large hole in the roof of this house and gently lowered their stretcher-bound friend down into the presence of Jesus. Now, I have to tell you that moves me, moves me deeply. This whole incident cuts right to my heart because it captures so perfectly what I believe my ministry is all about. I am warmed inside when I think about these four men who were so determined to get their friend to Jesus—not just into the vicinity of Jesus but right into the very presence of Jesus. They weren’t going to be satisfied until their sick friend and the healing Christ were face to face. Put it this way: They were not satisfied just to get this fellow to church; they wanted to get him into a living dynamic, transforming personal relationship with the Lord of Glory Himself. That moves me. That inspires me. Why? Because the essence of my ministry, that which consumes most of my waking hours and even some of my sleeping hours, is the desire to find ways to bring more and more people into direct contact with the transforming power of Jesus. So I have a heartfelt love for this story, and today I want to explore it more deeply with you.
First, the story makes it plain that the best thing a friend can do for a friend is to bring that friend to Jesus.
Obviously, these four men were believers. We know that from verse 5 where it says, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic …” When Jesus saw the faith of the men carrying the stretcher, He acted. Clearly, they believed in Jesus and in Jesus’ power—and, therefore, they understood that one of their great joys and one of their great responsibilities in life was to bring others to Jesus. Jesus says that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. I would suggest that our great task as Christians is to bring those two loves together. The most magnificent thing we can do for any friend of ours is to get that friend to Jesus, even if we have to do something as desperate and dramatic as tearing up a roof to do it.
Let me be painfully frank at this point. If we are too shy to talk to our friends about Jesus, then we are probably too shy about the experience of Jesus we ought to have had in our own lives. There ought to be burning in the heart of any Christian who is a friend of Jesus and a friend of others, the desire to bring Jesus and those others together. Why is it do you think that we seem so often reluctant to talk with others about our faith? I mean we are only too willing to discuss our phobias, our politics, our operations, our opinions, our travels, our troubles—why not our faith? Today, perhaps, as never before, the people of this world are searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in life—and Jesus Christ is the answer. Atheists are not at all ashamed to say that there is no God in this wonderful world of ours. Why then should we be ashamed to say publicly: “I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe that He holds the answer to all the problems of this world?” I must tell you that sometimes it seems to me that once we leave the soaring beauty of this place, we are scared to death to mention Jesus’ name unless we miss a short putt or hit our thumb with a hammer! What a shame! You see, the greatness of Christianity is not in its creeds or its hymns or its worship or its churches. Great as these things may be, the greatness of Christianity is found in the power of Jesus Christ to transform the lives of men and women and to transform society. All we need to do is share it.
I think here of two young men I learned about from my friend Bruce Thielman. Their names were James and Larry. They roomed together at one of our Presbyterian colleges. James was a Christian; Larry was not. They became good friends. James then set himself to the task of bringing his friend Larry into personal contact with Jesus Christ. He wasn’t overly aggressive; he wasn’t offensive; he didn’t try to paint his friend into some kind of Christian corner. Friends do not manipulate friends. So James simply used any available opportunity to speak a good word for Jesus. By the end of the year, Larry had embraced the Christian faith. When asked what it was about the witness of James that reached him, Larry replied, “James would sometimes talk in his sleep. Three different times I heard him pray for me while he was sleeping.” Think about that. Here was a young man so totally possessed with a desire to bring his friend to Jesus, that even his thoughts while sleeping were focused in that direction. That’s what I call “tearing up the roof to get someone to the Lord.” I say it again: The best thing a friend can do for a friend is to bring that friend to Jesus.
Something else, the story makes it plain that, when we lead someone from the darkness of this world into the light of Jesus Christ, there will be a price to be paid.
Here in Mark’s Gospel, we are told that when Jesus healed the man on the stretcher, some people in the crowd got mad. Amazing! Here’s a fellow who after a long time being an invalid suddenly is able to walk and that made some people angry. Well, that still happens. Let us share our faith and attempt to apply Christ’s Gospel to life, and there will always be those who will label us “fanatic,” or “meddler,” or “do-gooder,” or anything else that might come to mind. Let us in this church take some new initiative to bring Christ and the good of Christ to the world, and there will always be those who carp and criticize and try to shoot it down. Count on it!
Of course, that should not surprise us. Jesus lived the loveliest life ever lived, and He was attacked for it. He says to us in John 15 that the same world which persecuted Him will persecute us. We can anticipate that. It is going to happen. When we are in a place or a time where evil is applauded and good is ridiculed, when we are in a place or a time where caring is derided and self is exalted, when we are at a place or a time where others dishonor Christ by the way they live, then we can expect to be attacked or rejected, scorned or ignored if we dare to stand for Jesus Christ in our lives. But so what? Persecution couldn’t stop Christ. Why should it stop us?
Do you hear what I’m saying? I’m calling us as Christians to have the courage to bring others to Jesus, to tear holes in the roof if that’s what it takes to get them there. I’m calling us to be Christ’s women and men and to be His unashamed witnesses in our world. I’m calling us to have one great allegiance in our lives, which stands above all others—allegiance to Jesus Christ. I am looking for a radical discipleship, a discipleship that gives without bothering to count the cost, a discipleship which will not tolerate anything which cripples or devalues other people, be it a nation or a school or a social organization or a human relationship. I’m calling us as sisters and brothers in Christ to join hands and hearts, like those four men on the roof, to bring those who do not know Jesus into His presence so that they may gain from Him new life and new hope.
Well, that’s pretty heavy stuff. So let me finish with something that may say in laughter what I have not been able to say in urgency. There was a little monk who lived in a large monastery up in Canada. This monk was very shy, and he lived in mortal fear that someday the Abbot of the monastery would command him to preach in chapel. In fact, it so upset him and terrified him that he finally went to the Abbot and said, “Ask me to do anything you want, but please, I beg you, do not ask me to preach in chapel.” Needless to say, the Abbot immediately said, “You are to preach in chapel tomorrow morning.” The next day, practically sick with fear, the little monk stepped up into the chapel pulpit, looked out into the assembled congregation of his fellow monks, and he said to them, “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the monks in the congregation shook their heads “no.” The little monk said, “I don’t either. Pax vobiscum. Peace be with you. Chapel is dismissed.” The Abbot immediately pulled the little monk aside, and he said, “That was not acceptable. Consequently, you will now have to preach in chapel tomorrow morning.” The next morning the little monk stepped up into the pulpit, looked out at the congregation, and said, “Do you know what I am going to say?” To encourage him, they all nodded their heads “yes.” To which the little monk responded, “Well, if you all know, then there is no need for me to say it. Pax vobiscum. Peace be with you. Chapel is dismissed.” Now the Abbot was in a thundering fury. He cried out, “Tomorrow is your last chance. You had better get it right.” The next day, once more the little monk stepped into the pulpit. Once more he looked out at the congregation and once more he said, “Do you know what I am going to say?” Some in the congregation nodded “yes,” and some shook their heads “no.” The little monk then said, “Will those of you who know kindly tell those who don’t? Pax vobiscum. Chapel is dismissed.”
That’s it. Will those of you who know, kindly, ever so kindly, tell those who don’t?
And the peace of God be with you.