“He’s being moved from the hospital,” she said “People from the hospice are going over. So you know what that means.”
And I did. It meant that they were just trying to make him comfortable.
My mom’s Uncle Ross had been in hospital for something else when they discovered the bone cancer. It was already too far—they couldn’t stop it. So we were already making arrangements for his memorial service.
My mom asked me if I would mind helping with part of the service. I asked when it would be. She said probably next weekend. I said (carefully) that I’d be happy to help but that I was preparing a message to give at church (hoping she’d get the hint). She said it would mean a lot to the family.
I nodded but didn’t say anything as I left.
That week I tried to keep my thoughts on the message I was getting ready for and not on the family situation.
Spurgeon: “It matters not what tiles are to be taken off, what plaster is to be digged up, or what boards are to be torn away, or what labor, or trouble, or expense we may be at: the soul is too precious for us to stand upon nice questions.”
My text was the story of Jesus and the Paralytic from Luke 5:17-26. It was a familiar felt-board Bible story of a broken roof and a rolled up mat, but there were some details I didn’t remember. One group in particular I seemed to have previously overlooked: the four men that carried this paralytic to Jesus. Four ordinary men that did an extraordinary thing. In fact, Scripture says that Jesus helps the paralytic when he sees “their faith.”
One small detail arrested me: These men carried their friend to Jesus.
I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind: “carried to Jesus.” Without cars or shuttles these four carried a full-grown man to Jesus. They didn’t just stop by this paralytic’s house and pray that he find a way to get to Jesus that day—they carried this man themselves. And when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable problem—a completely full house—they didn’t give up. They didn’t assume it was God’s will that this man not be healed. Instead, they dug through two feet of packed earth and branches to get their friend to Jesus.
Why did they do this? I think the answer is devastatingly simple: they believed that only Jesus could help their friend. Only Jesus. More than anything else this man needed, he needed Jesus.
As I read I realized I didn’t look much like these men. They didn’t even have a full picture of Jesus’ identity and yet they did everything they could to get their paralyzed friend to him.
I realized that I like being comfortable as a Christian. I like having my favorite chair in church, I like having my favorite ministry to serve in. I don’t like interacting with people that are a little dirty, that have things wrong with them. I like nice people, not people with major problems. I realized that part of me didn’t want to help with the memorial service for my mom’s Uncle Ross because I knew it wouldn’t be pretty—because of a divorce two separate families were coming, some of them with uncomfortable people.
Charles Spurgeon says this about the passage: “It matters not what tiles are to be taken off, what plaster is to be digged up, or what boards are to be torn away, or what labor, or trouble, or expense we may be at: the soul is too precious for us to stand upon nice questions.”
When I apply the gospel to my attitude toward the unattractive and unlovely the gospel changes everything. If I believe that those around me desperately need Jesus and that only Jesus is the cure then I’ll want to carry them to Jesus too.
Over the next few days I repented of being indifferent to my great-uncle’s family in need. I tried to apply the message of the gospel to my attitude. Then as I dug deeper into the story I realized that the message of the gospel had even more to say.
When the Paralytic is lowered in front of him Jesus does something more amazing than a simple physical healing. Unasked, Jesus says the precious words, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
As soon as he says “forgiven” the Pharisees begin grumbling that only God can forgive sins. They’re right. Forgiveness for the Israelites meant an elaborate ceremony in which an animal was sacrificed. Forgiveness wasn’t cheap—it meant death. How could Jesus flippantly use those words?
But the words Jesus said weren’t said flippantly. Even as he said them he must have known what they would cost him. This man’s sins flew in the face of God’s righteousness and required punishment. This man’s sins would require a sacrifice. Saying, “Friend, your sins are forgiven,” meant that Jesus would have to cry, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus carried this man to God as he carried the cross.
Jesus carried the sins of this man, carried the sins of the world, to a hill called Golgotha where he himself bore the wrath of God and earned the right to say to others: “forgiven.” These words to the paralytic are unimaginable. But Jesus says them to many others too. He says them to me.
I am a paralytic too—once paralyzed by my own sin but restored by God. Can I not get my hands dirty carrying other paralytics to Jesus? Jesus certainly bloodied his hands for me. The gospel should inform us when we see the dirty or unattractive or forgotten or lonely. The gospel should inform us when we see someone yelling at their children, when we meet an unmarried pregnant girl, when we see a family member battling alcoholism.
The gospel says, “Carry them to Jesus.”
The story of the paralytic was still on my mind a few weeks later when the church office doorbell rang. I opened the door to see a man in a beat-up jean jacket with a ponytail and leathery face.
“Hey is Tom here?” he said.
I started to tell him that Tom was busy. The weatherbeaten man looked disappointed. But before he could leave, Tom appeared.
“Hey brother, good to see you again,” Tom said, greeting the weatherbeaten man.
The man smiled with discolored teeth.
“Hey Tom thank you so much for helping me get a ride the other day. I came by to see if you can help me talk to my mom. I mean she kicked me out of the house and that’s okay but I got these tickets on my back I need her help with. I just need to get back on my feet. Once I get the tickets off my back I can start driving again and just sleep in the truck, you know? But I need my mom to help me with the tickets, you know? Maybe we could call her together tomorrow?”
I wondered if all that was true and what this guy was leaving out. And I knew Tom was already swamped tomorrow.
Tom paused for a second, then said, “I’d love to help you. Can you come by at 11? We can talk then. I’ll do what I can.”
The weatherbeaten man grabbed Tom’s hand and shook it, “Oh thank you. Thank you. I just need to get on my feet.”
Tom smiled, happy to carry him that far.