Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:1b “. . .and came into his own city.”
Having finished His mission trip to Gadara, Jesus returned to the northwest shore of Lake Galilee. He came back to the city of Capernaum, His hometown, His current base of operations, and central headquarters for His Galilean ministry.
Matt. 9:2a “And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying
on a bed:. . .”
Mark 2:3ff and Luke 5:18ff provide added details about this incident. Four men carried to Jesus a man paralyzed, lying on his bed, probably a mat or thick quilt similar to our sleeping bags. They had somehow failed to bring their helpless friend to Jesus the last time He was healing the masses in Capernaum (MT 8:16).
The four missed their first chance, but not their second. Someone came running with the news, “He’s back, He’s back!!” The four sprang into action. Refusing to impose on the Master by asking Him to come to them, they unselfishly took upon themselves all the expending of time and energy. With loving hands, they scooped up their friend and came running expectantly to Jesus. But alas! the building was full. They could not get close to Jesus because of the huge crowd.
Standing out at the fringe of the multitude, an executive decision had to be made. They knew their friend’s only hope was in the middle of this large congregation. The four had to choose–go home unhelped or be rude. Desperation quickly drove them past propriety. They opted to be impolite.
Living in a fishing town, the four had learned how to lower a net, and knew lots of rope would be hanging on the walls. Outfitted with skill, rope, and a pallet, they climbed an outside stairway nearby or walked through the neighborhood from one flat housetop to another on what was called “the road of roofs” (Phillips).
Arriving atop the overcrowded house, the last item the four needed in order to accomplish their discourteous mission was a hole in the roof above Jesus’ head. What happened next was not in the Sunday morning bulletin. The worship service was suddenly and brazenly disrupted.
With total disregard for the homeowner, the four began tossing aside branches and removing roof tiles. Absolutely oblivious to the desire for decorum in the meeting underway beneath them, the four crashed the proceedings.
When the throng looked up, they saw a paralyzed man strapped to a bed, dangling in mid-air over their heads. Down, down, down, he came, dropping like a huge spider from the roof. His descent did not end until the four knew they had achieved their objective of setting their friend close to Jesus.
While the crowd was holding its collective breath, the four were breathing hard from exertion. Gasping for air, and holding their friend, the four waited for Jesus with looks of eager anticipation. No word was spoken. Their gazes silently spoke volumes, “Oh, Lord, please hear our acted-out prayer.”
In the silent suspense following this extraordinary commotion, all eyes turned toward Jesus to see how He would handle this embarrassing interruption.
Matt. 9:2b “. . .and Jesus seeing their faith. . .”
Jesus liked what He saw. Let us gaze with Him at the four and see three traits that surely pleased Him. First, Jesus was touched by their pity. The four cared for the most helpless man in town. Totally paralyzed, unable to move at all–some would have called him a burden, but for the four, his sickness was a blessing, it brought their softest traits to light. “The four strong men who carry him grow gentler by their action” (Glover). People in trouble and hard straits can be God’s means of making us kinder and more merciful. Hardness has become too common in our culture–road rage, harsh clerks, angry customers, mean bosses. We need to learn again the beauty, the value, of tenderness toward others in need.
Toward prechristians we have too long been mad rather than sad. Pity them, brothers and sisters. They are lost and sin-sick. Can we not muster enough compassion to do for them what these four did? For one who needed Jesus, they were willing to seek outside the walls of the building where He was. They picture for us what Jesus meant when He instructed us to be willing to be inconvenienced, to “go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind” (LK 14:23). Out in the highways and hedges, where the hurting are, is where we are to do the work of compelling people to come in. The four in pity brought their friend to Jesus. Let us do likewise.
Second, Jesus was touched by their persistence. The four refused to give up, no matter what. Quitting was never deemed an option. They endured much trouble to overcome every obstacle in their way.
Obsessed with the mission to bring their needy friend into Jesus’ presence, the four persisted to the point of rudeness. I highly value courtesy, and do not encourage us to be obnoxious. However, I fear we are in danger of forgetting there is nothing wrong with loving confrontation. Our responsibility is to speak the truth in love (EP 4:15). We are often guilty of a hypersensitivity to people’s feelings, and as a result let them enter a Christ-less eternity by default. Few in Hell will ever have to accuse most of us of rudeness. What consolation will this be? I also fear few in Hell will ever be able to accuse most of us of caring either.
A major trait of godliness is an unflappable determination to win the lost. True spirituality entails willingness to find, know, and befriend an ungodly person, and to stay after that soul until he or she is brought into the presence of Jesus.
Are you the friend of an unbeliever? If no, find one to befriend. If yes, do not let them go until they die or come to Christ. Remain persistent to the end.
We must trust for them while they do not trust. We cannot transfer saving faith. Our faith cannot save the lost. However, our bulldog determination can be the means whereby they repeatedly are confronted with the claims of the Gospel.
We can talk to them one on one, and share the Gospel with them personally and directly. We can bring them to church, where they will hear the Gospel. Do not fear this. The lost expect to be confronted with tenets of our faith when they visit among us. They know our faith revolves around a Book and a Person. Do not think their being challenged by these two things will surprise or shock them.
If we attended a Buddhist temple, we would expect to hear of Buddhism; if we entered an Islamic mosque, we would anticipate hearing about Islam. Similarly, when folks come to a Christian gathering, they expect to hear about Christianity. Don’t say no for lost people. Let them come hear the Gospel for themselves.
If they refuse to come to church, and if they tell us to speak to them no more of Jesus, we still do not have the right to give up. We have to persist behind the scenes, carrying on with an anonymous ministry. We can, with Whitefield, cry for unbelievers when they will not cry for themselves. We can take on the role of a nameless servant, and pray for the lost when they will not pray for themselves.
It is easy to become discouraged with evangelism and missions. We often feel our efforts are useless, not doing any good. Let us not grow weary in well doing (GL 6:9). Never give up. Persist. The unfailing faith of these four brought healing to the paralytic. Maybe our faith will bring blessing to a prechristian.
Third, Jesus was touched by their perception. Their trust was solely in Jesus. They hoped in nothing, and no one, else. The four realized their own insufficiency. They knew they could carry their friend, but also knew they could not cure him (Buttrick). Keep the focus on Jesus. He is this tired world’s only hope.
Carry your beloved prechristians in your hearts, in your prayers, in your thoughts, and in your cars, but always remember it’s Jesus or nothing. The lost can be found not by good deeds or church membership. Point to Jesus. He is the issue. Focus their attention on Jesus somehow someway–no, any how, any way.
Driven by a confidence of success in Jesus, the four placed their friend in the position of hope. Prechristian friend, learn a lesson from the four. “Trust your soul to Jesus, sink or swim. Determine that, if you must die, you will die at the foot of Christ’s cross; but you will go nowhere else for salvation” (Spurgeon).