“God’s anonymous: Four crazy friends”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Early one Saturday afternoon in May of 1995, 43-year-old Christopher Reeve, best known as the star of four Superman movies, prepared for the cross-country portion of an equestrian event in Culpepper, Virginia. And why not? After all, he had learned to ride horses some ten years before for the movie Anna Karenina, and loved it! And just like any of his other extracurricular activities like flying, skiing, sailing and scuba diving, he pushed himself well beyond that of a weekend hobbyist to a full-out athlete.
And as he looked across the course and mapped out his strategy, he was a little fearful as to how his horse, Eastern Express, would respond. Though he felt he could not only place, but win the event, he was riding a very large and powerful horse.
And just after 3:00, they left the starting gate, then jumped once and then twice with no problems. But as they closed in on the third jump, a “W-shaped” zig-zig fence, the horse suddenly and for no reason stopped dead in its tracks. And as you can imagine, Reeve kept moving forward, throwing him clear off the horse. And with his hands still wrapped up tight in the bridle and reigns, he couldn’t break his fall, so the full load of his 6’4” 215 pounds crashed head first into the top rail, fracturing his first and second vertebrae. And in the minutes and hours that followed, though everyone did everything they could to save him, he would, for the rest of his life, be unable to feel anything below his neck, breathe without help from a respirator or do any kind of physical activity on his own again.
Later he said, “When the unthinkable happens, the lighthouse is hope. Once we find it, we must cling to it with absolute determination...And when we have hope, we discover powers within ourselves we may have never known--the power to make sacrifices, to endure, to heal, and to love. Once we choose hope, everything is possible. We are all on this sea together. But the lighthouse is always there, ready to show us the way home.” And he said, “In the face of adversity, hope often comes in the form of a friend who reaches out to help us.”
So it was in the words of our text from the book of Mark chapter 2. I’ll start at verse 1: “And when He returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And He was preaching the Word to them” (Mark 2:1-2).
Back in Bible times, the city of Capernaum, also known as “Nahum’s village,” and “Village of comfort,” was a pretty small town, population 1,500, that sat on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It was the home of as many as five of Jesus’ disciples, including Matthew the tax collector, and four fishermen--Peter and Andrew, and James and John. It’s even the place that Jesus, for a time, called home.
And it’s the place that witnessed some of His most amazing miracles, like when He cast out a demon in the synagogue, raised Jarius’ daughter from the dead, and healed a centurion’s servant and a nobleman’s son. It’s also where Peter found a coin in a fish’s mouth.
And as Mark wrote in his account of the gospel, just as soon as Jesus came, many people “gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door” (Mark 2:2). As in standing room only. Jammed to the rafters. Spilling onto the street.
Now that’s not unusual. Wherever Jesus went, it seemed that people always came to hear Him speak. And along with all those who came to hear Him also came the blind, and the lame, and those literally dying to be healed by Him.
But this time, there was one more. As it says in verse 3: “And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic carried by four men.”
“A paralytic,” it said.
Now for just a moment, I’d like you to imagine what life would be like, in Israel, in the first century A.D., for a paralyzed man. Likely through no fault of his own, his whole life has been lived on a mat three feet wide by six feet long, and every day he’s had to depend on someone else to wash him, feed him, clothe him, and carry him around.
There’s absolutely no way he could contribute to society--he was paralyzed! He had no job, no influence, no present and certainly no future.
Even worse, there’s nothing that could be done for him--no surgeries, no rehab, no treatment facilities of any kind. So all he could do was to lay on the side of the road and beg for someone to toss him enough coins so he could live to see another day. It was pretty much the saddest and most dismal existence anyone could ever have.
But the Bible says that not only was he a paralytic, he had four friends, (and if I might add, four rather crazy friends). Which makes us wonder--how did a paralyzed man ever end up with four friends like those?
Now we don’t mean to be too cynical of human nature, but it seems a little strange. A paralyzed man wouldn’t have gone to school, so he didn’t have any high school buddies. Obviously, they didn’t play on the same soccer team. So how in the world did this guy on a mat end up with these four awesome friends?
We can never know for sure, but maybe, several years before, these guys had seen him lying beside the road begging for coins, when they suddenly decided, “Hey, this guy needs friends. Let’s be those friends.”
But whatever the reason, they took it upon themselves to look out for him and to care for him in his desperate need.
So when word got out that Jesus was in town, they immediately thought of their friend on the mat. And they said to each other, “If this Jesus guy can make the blind see and the lame walk, maybe, just maybe, He can heal our friend!” So they picked him up, mat and all, and said, “Let’s go see Jesus!”
There was just one problem. Verse 4: “They could not get near Him because of the crowd.”
Now what would you do if Jesus was preaching inside and you were stuck outside? They could have given up. They could have said, “Maybe we’ll try to catch Him another time.”
But that’s not what they did at all! Instead, they did what any young, enterprising men would do. They climbed up on the roof! As it says in verse 4: “They removed the roof above Him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.”
It must have been quite a sight. There was Jesus preaching and teaching, surrounded by a huge crowd of people, when all of a sudden, there was a commotion up above them, as pieces of thatch and twigs and dust came tumbling down to the floor. Then ever so slowly and carefully, those four, faithful, crazy, sweaty friends lowered that paralytic, that bundle of misery, right at Jesus’ feet. A tense, awkward hush fell across the crowd.
And what did Jesus do? For just a moment, He looked up at the hole in the roof, then down to the man on the ground and said in verse 5: “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Let me stop there, because those words, more than any other, are truly the most important words in this text.
Now anyone would say that those are the absolute last words we would ever expect to hear. What we would expect is for Jesus to say, (as He so often said before), “Your faith has healed you. Pick up your mat and go home.”
But that’s not what He said at all. Instead, He said, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Why? Because the real problem wasn’t his legs. It was his heart. And before Jesus would heal his legs, He first had to heal his heart. That’s why He said, “Your sins are forgiven.”
There’s a lesson for us there as well.
It’s been said that, nowadays, almost no one cares about sin. Even Christians often fail to think of it as seriously as they should.
But when the Bible talks about sin, it uses words like alienation, separation, rejection and rebellion. The difference is as great as life and death, light and dark, heaven and hell.
That is, after all, what Paul wrote to the Romans. He said, “The wages of sin is death.” And he said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Or think of Luther’s words. He wrote: “Take this to heart and doubt not that you are the one who killed Christ. When you see the nails driven through His hands, be sure that you are pounding, and when the thorns pierce His brow, know that they are your evil thoughts.” And he wrote, “Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God.”
The story is told of American politician, orator, and statesman Daniel Webster, (of Webster’s Dictionary fame), who often spent summers with his family in New Hampshire. And every Sunday, he went to church.
And when a niece asked him why he went to their small church every Sunday, when he seldom ever attended one of the larger churches in Washington, he replied, “In Washington, they preach to Daniel Webster, the statesman, but your pastor has been telling Daniel Webster, the sinner, about Jesus of Nazareth.”
As another author put it, “Beyond all argument, the greatest preacher ever was Jesus Christ and, beyond all argument, the greatest message ever preached was the message of forgiveness. And it is still the greatest message ever preached.”
That’s why He looked at the man and said: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Then to be sure that all knew He had the authority to forgive sins, He turned to the man and said, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
So what does this text mean to teach us? I’ll leave you with two things. First this--just as four crazy friends once carried this paralyzed man to Jesus, there have been many who have brought you to Him. Maybe it was a parent or grandparent. Maybe it was an aunt or an uncle. Maybe it was a teacher in school. Whoever it was, think of them for just a moment, and give thanks for what they’ve done, for it was, in part, because of them that you are what you are and who you are today.
And one more thing--do you remember what Jesus said in verse 9? He said, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?”
Now most anyone would say it’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” Anyone can say that.
But if you want to know just how much it cost to forgive sins, there’s only one place you can see and know for sure--just outside Jerusalem’s city wall, on a hill called Calvary. And there you’ll see Jesus, the just for the unjust, the sinless for the sinful, that we might be redeemed.
You’ve called us, dear Father, to follow You. Help us, by Your grace, to bring others to You too, that they, with us, may honor You as Savior and Lord, for Jesus’ sake. Amen