Like a turtle sitting on a fencepost, those of us who trust what God says—that He loves us dearly, forgives us completely, and frees us forever—didn’t get there on our own. Once upon a time, our ability to trust God was maliciously crippled. Our paralysis was the result of Satan’s first attack on the human race, a shrewd attempt to demolish Eve’s confidence in the goodness of God. Sadly for her and us, the enemy’s plan worked far too well. Ever since, women and men have suffered the paralyzing effects of an undeserved or inadequate view of God.
With warped and distorted souls, we were rendered helpless as we lived in a continual state of confusion, anger, arrogance, brokenness, loneliness, and fear. Our only real hope was for someone to bring us to Jesus so that we could see clearly the God that our Savior came to reveal. Only then could we reasonably hope to understand the wildly passionate, unconditional love that is in God’s heart.
Mark’s Gospel tells an incredible story about four men carrying a paralyzed friend to Jesus (2:1-12). Like countless other stories in the Bible, it illustrates the reality that God is more winsome and caring than we could imagine. Mark offers very little information about the four men: They are not referred to by name, and there is no record of the words that passed between them. We don’t even know their relationship to the paralyzed man or what became of them afterward. Nor are we told how far they traveled to perform such an act of kindness or what it cost them. Yet it’s apparent that no distance was too far, no cost too great, and no complication too much. Despite the difficulty and inconvenience confronting them, this quartet was determined to get their friend to Jesus. And here’s a spoiler alert: They were not disappointed!
Pondering this story, I can’t help wondering what it must have been like to be the paralyzed man. To rely on others for everything. To never be able to stand on his own and stretch, or enjoy a change of scenery without troubling others. Did he ever feel anything besides helplessness, humiliation, isolation, frustration, or despair?
Calling for help is embarrassing; it’s a humiliating admission of need, and experiencing that kind of disgrace is the last thing we want.
How did he react when his friends grabbed the four corners of his cot and headed out the door with him? Do you suspect they told him their plans, or did they just say it was a surprise? Do you think he was disappointed or relieved when, at first, it appeared they would be forced to abort their mission? Do you think he cautioned them when they began devising their de-roofing strategy? Was he excited, frightened, or embarrassed when they started lowering him through the hole? We can’t know the answers to these questions, but one thing is certain. When Jesus beheld the one who’d landed safely at His feet, He saw the truth—that the man’s paralysis was deeper and more pervasive than it appeared. Within that withered body was a crippled soul, paralyzed by sin and shrunken from shame.
However, the crippled man before Him wasn’t the only thing that Jesus observed. He also saw the spirited, sweaty faces of four desperate men peering down at Him through a hole—men whose faith was bold, earnest, insistent, and seemingly indifferent to social consequences. He saw four men who would not be denied, whose bloody knuckles offered proof that they would stop at nothing. Four filthy faces, craving a miracle. Panting with anticipation. Wide-eyed with hope. Four grown men who looked like starving children pressing their noses against a store window, craving a morsel of mercy. Apparently it wasn’t what Jesus heard that arrested His heart. It was what He saw that moved Him. They destroyed someone’s property, interrupted Jesus while He was talking, and aggravated the people who were listening. Just like kids!
Their childlike trust in Jesus’ power to heal their paralyzed friend moved the Lord’s tender heart. And why should we be surprised? After all, He is the one who said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children . . . anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15 NLT).
It seems to me that Jesus’ defense of children should make us ask another question: What is it about them that He liked and valued so much? The answer is, humility. Ordinarily, children are unconcerned about status and feel embarrassed to be the center of attention; that’s because they haven’t yet learned to think in terms of prestige or self-importance. What’s more, children aren’t afraid or too proud to ask for help. They have no difficulty admitting their limitations or acknowledging they’re in over their heads. Adults, on the other hand, are reluctant (if not incapable) of calling for assistance. We hesitate to concede a weakness or admit we’re in trouble. A call for help is like an admission of weakness or, even worse, defeat. Requesting help is embarrassing; it’s a humiliating admission of need, and experiencing that kind of disgrace is the last thing we want.
My father died a few weeks ago, so I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ words, especially those concerning children. During his last two years, Dad became more and more like a child. Eventually, he was helpless. Yet in his weakened state, he gave a priceless gift. By letting me help him, he also let me know him in ways that I never had before.
In his final months, Dad challenged me to live in the present. He wanted me to be with him, here and now. No excuses. He found it hard to understand or accept that I had other things to do or to think about. His expressions of affection and his willingness to receive it were unfiltered. He became more open and playful than ever before. And when he passed away, I knew Dad had been touched by the kingdom of God—just like a child.
One of the greatest privileges, and oftentimes most difficult challenges, is bringing people to Christ. But it is worth every ounce of labor. Hopefully, you won’t have to dig through any roofs to do it, but you may have to break down some walls of ignorance, misunderstanding, pride, prejudice, and past hurts. You may have to get dirty, use your head, adjust your schedule, modify your budget, swallow your pride, and creatively use your gifts. But like the four men in Mark’s Gospel, you won’t be disappointed.