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MIRACULOUS MOMENTS IN MARK: Let Down By Friends: Paralytic On A Pallet

Mark 2:1-12

Jesus was in Capernaum.

The Bible says that He was at 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, the word got out that Jesus was teaching and healing there. The result was that crowds flocked to that house—filling up all of the rooms and spilling out onto the street. At that point, four men carrying a litter—a pallet—a stretcher—entered the scene. On the pallet was a fifth man, a man who was paralyzed. The four men carrying the pallet pushed and shoved their way through the swirling sea of humanity, but they soon realized that they would never make it into the house. They stopped for a moment’s consultation to try to figure out what to do next. No doubt they used the respite to wipe the sweat from their brows and to catch their breaths and then, having reached what must have been a unanimous decision, they climbed up to the outdoor stairway which led up to the roof of the house.

Palestinian homes in the first century always had an outdoor staircase. It provided ready 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 friend on a stretcher up to the roof of the house and there they proceeded to tear a great gaping hole in the roof, through which they could then let their friend down into the presence of Jesus. Understand, please, that that was not as destructive as it first appears. You see, the roofs of Palestinian homes were very simple in construction. Wooden beams were placed atop the walls in parallel form about three feet apart. Covering the beams there would be a thick layer of reeds and rushes woven carefully and tightly together. Over it all was a light covering of mud baked hard by the sun. So a roof in those days was relatively easily made or remade.

So these four men opened a large hole in the roof of the house and gently lowered their friend on the stretcher down into the presence of Jesus. Now, I have to tell you that that moves me. It moves me deeply. This whole scene cuts right through 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 men who were so anxious and so determined to get their friend to Jesus—not just into the vicinity of Jesus—but right into the very presence of Jesus. They were not going to be satisfied until their paralyzed friend and the healing Christ were face-to-face. We might well 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. And 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 Christ. So I have a special love for this story and today I want to explore it more deeply with you. I want you to understand the meaning and the message behind this miracle.

In the first place, 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 five of the passage where it says: “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic… ” When Jesus saw the faith of the four men, He acted. And so they believed in Jesus Christ—no mistaking that. And being believers they understood that one of their great joys and one of their great responsibilities in life was to bring others to Jesus. They knew Jesus as the Savior, yes, but they also knew Him as the Lord. That is to say, they not only believed in Him, they also obeyed Him. Jesus says that we ought to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. 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 honest at this point. If we are too shy to talk to our friends about Jesus, then we are probably shy the experience of Jesus which 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 then that we seem so reluctant to talk with others about the faith we hold dear? 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 in life, and that’s just another term for religion. Today, perhaps as never before, the world needs to know the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Atheists are not at all ashamed to say that there is no God in the midst of this wonderful world of ours. Why, then should we be ashamed to say publicly: “I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He holds the answer to all the problems of this world.” And I must tell you that sometimes it seems to me that once we leave the magnificent 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! Such 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. And all we need to do is to share it.

I think here of two young men—one named James and the other Larry. They roomed together at one of our Presbyterian colleges. James was a Christian and 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 a Christian comer. Friends do not manipulate friends. So James simply used any available opportunity he had to speak a good word for Jesus. By the end of the year, Larry had embraced the Christian faith. Someone asked Larry what it was about the witness of James that reached him. Larry replied: “James would sometimes talk in his sleep and three different times I heard him pray for me while he was sleeping.”

Think about that for a moment. Here was a young man so totally possessed with a desire to bring his friend to Jesus that even his thoughts while sleeping were channeled in that direction. That’s what I call “tearing up the roof to get someone to the Lord.” Yes. The best thing a friend can do for a friend is to bring that friend to Jesus Christ.

Something else. This story makes it plain that when we lead someone from the side of darkness to the side of light there will be a price to be paid.

When we read this story in Mark we are told that when Jesus healed the paralytic on the pallet, some people in the crowd got mad. Amazing! Here’s a fellow who after years of being an invalid suddenly was able to walk and that made some people angry. Of course, that still happens. Let us share our faith and attempt to apply Christ’s Gospel to life, and there will always be those who 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’s 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 in 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 Christ in our lives. But so what? Persecution could not stop Christ. Persecution will not stop us.

There is a remarkable cemetery in the Swiss town of Zermatt, a village located right at the base of the Matterhorn. In that cemetery are buried many of those who have lost their lives trying to scale the Matterhorn. There is one black tombstone in that cemetery beneath which are buried three young men from Oxford University. They died attempting to climb the Matterhorn in 1934. Underneath their names on that stone there is inscribed a single sentence: “We who lie here scorned the lesser peaks.”

Catch that, please. They scorned the lesser peaks. They did not shrink before the challenge. It cost them their lives, yes, but they would not turn away from that which was difficult. I think there is a word here for us as Christians. Scorn the lesser peaks. Rise to the challenge. Don’t tremble before the tough obstacles. It may cost us, yes, but you see, there is a whole world out there that is so worth the winning.

Bottom line? 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 become Christ’s men and women, to be his unashamed witnesses in our world. I’m calling us to have one allegiance in our lives which stands above all others—allegiance to Jesus Christ. I’m calling us to be so tied to Jesus Christ that we 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 brothers and sisters in Christ to join hands 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.

You see, because of your faith, someone else may be blessed.

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