[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Church during worship celebrations on February 18 and 19.]Mark 2:1-12
Among my favorite U2 songs is one they did with blues guitarist, B.B. King abou twenty years ago, When Love Comes to Town
. The last verse and chorus say this:
I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword.
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I've seen love conquer the great divide.
When love comes to town I'm gonna jump that train
When love comes to town I'm gonna catch that flame.
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town.
Love comes to our
town, to our
world, to our
lives in the Person of that Lord Who was crucified and then rose, Jesus Christ. And when He comes to us, everything is changed
In our Bible lesson, we find an incident from Jesus’ ministry that combines, as life often does, high drama and slapstick comedy. We also find that the love of God in Christ has come to town, specifically to the town of Capernaum.
At the end of last week’s Bible lesson
, a man Jesus cleansed of leprosy couldn’t contain himself, told everybody what Jesus had done, and after that, Jesus’ life was like that of a rock star. He couldn’t go anywhere without having crowds chasing after Him. Jesus found it necessary to stay in wilderness places.
But everybody needs to go back home to recharge their batteries and Jesus had already picked Capernaum, a city on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, as His hometown. Some think that Jesus may have had his own place there, though most believe He had taken up residence in Peter’s house. Be that as it may, Mark seems to tell us that Jesus tried to steal into town for a restful visit to His home.
That proved impossible. Mark tells us, “When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.”
As Jesus speaks, something that must have looked comical unfolds. Four men, carrying a paralytic friend on a mat, are desperate to get close to Jesus. They’re sure that Jesus can heal the man. But every effort they make to get to Jesus fails. Finally, they get an idea: They’ll take their friend up onto the roof of the house Jesus is in. Then, they’ll rip the roof open and lower the man and his mat down to Jesus. Now, this wouldn’t have been as difficult to do as it might seem to us: Most houses in first-century Judea had exterior staircases that led to the roof and the roof itself would have been “made of saplings laid flat, with branches and twigs spread over them, and clay patted down over this and baked in the sun” [like adobe]. I imagine that when Jesus saw these four men lower their paralyzed friend down to Him through the roof, He laughed out loud. Mark tells us, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”
Of course, when the theologians who are on hand--the Scribes--hear this, they’re horrified. “Who is this Jesus,” they say to themselves, “to go around forgiving sin? He’s being disrespectful of God because only God can forgive sin.”
Jesus knows what they’re thinking and so, He confronts them. “Which is easier to do: Tell this man his sins are forgiven or tell him to get up off his mat and walk out of here?” Without letting the shocked preachers respond, Jesus turns to the paralyzed man and tells him: “Pick up your mat and walk out of this place.” To everybody’s amazement, that’s exactly what the man is able to do.
There are lots of things we could say about this incident. But today, I want to lift up just two important lessons from this day when love came to town, when Jesus came to Capernaum.
The first is this: Faith in Jesus makes us part of a serving community.
When you begin to follow Jesus, it makes you desperate to help others. Because you know that you’re in God’s hands forever and that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, your heart opens up to serving, loving, and praying for others. The paralytic’s friends went to outrageous lengths to place their friends in the presence of Jesus.
Let me ask you a question: How desperate are you to place people you know in the presence of Jesus?
Desperate enough to pray for someone going through a tough time? Desperate enough to volunteer for a ministry? Desperate enough to invite a friend to worship with you? Desperate enough to sacrifice or to give some of your time for someone who has a need? Desperate enough to get involved in one of our monthly outreaches?
A friend of mine once shared a homely illustration that I’ve stolen and used many times. He said that having faith in Jesus Christ is like His being in the middle of an arena, filled with people, and each person who trusts in Christ, stepping closer and closer to Him. The funny thing is that as those people get closer to Christ, they also get closer to each other. That’s the Church and we’re called to serve one another.
But, through our life together, we’re also called to serve and care about all the other people in that arena, the world. Like the four men who lowered their friend to Jesus, may we realize that faith in Christ makes us part of a serving community.
Second: Jesus’ healing has an impact on more than just one person.
Everyone who witnessed Jesus’ memorable encounter with the paralytic man was affected that day. And the impact happened even before He told the man to pick up his mat and walk away.
You see, in those days, a sort of caveman theology prevailed. It said that if you were seriously ill or paralyzed or afflicted in some other way, the reason was that you or your parents were unrepentant sinners. This caveman theology would have also held that righteous, upstanding people shouldn’t have anything to do with those who were afflicted. But the four men who lowered Jesus on that mat, who had trust in Jesus and His love for the whole human race, evidently thought that such notions were bunk. And Jesus demonstrates that He thought they were bunk too. He tells the paralytic, even before He was healed and well
, words that the man never have heard in His whole life, words that told Him that He was spiritually healed and was one with God even before the paralysis was lifted from his body! (It was only to show the scribes that He really had the authority to forgive sin--an authority that only belongs to God--that Jesus then gave the man physical healing.)All of the people gathered around that door in Capernaum saw that in Christ, there can be forgiveness of sins, oneness with God, the greatest healing of all, and that there can be other kinds of healing, too.
The healing of this one man created a ripple effect of faith and an awakening to what Jesus could do in their own lives!
A man at my internship congregation once approached me to share something with me. “My son didn’t want anything to do with God for years,” he told me. “But some people at a church in the town where he lives helped him when he was out of work. One guy gave him some leads. A woman watched his kids when he went on interviews. Another man prayed for him and always asked how he was doing. A month ago, he went to church. I was skeptical, Mark. But he’s been in worship every week since then and last night, he told me, ‘It feels good not to be mad at God any more, Dad.’” At that, the man’s eyes glistened with tears. His son’s broken life was healed. But so was a father’s broken heart. The spiritual healing that comes through the power of Jesus Christ always creates such ripple effects.
You and I, my dear friends, are the means by which Jesus’ love comes to this
town. Through our faith in Christ, we’re made part of a serving community. And when we bring Christ to others, His healing, forgiving touch will have an impact on more than just the person who is healed.
Friendship, our serving community of faith, has been called together by God to share Christ in this part of God's world. We summarize this call in our motto: “Joining hands with God and neighbor.” May that be our passion, our lifestyle, and our trademark.