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Wanted: Stretcher Bearers (February 3, 2013)

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Josephus, the famed Jewish historian, who lived from year 37 to 95 wrote “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call Him a man: for He was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to Him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him; for He appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning Him. And the tribe of Christians so named from Him, are not extinct at this day.” This is an historical account of Jesus Christ. A testimony of his life and accomplishments. A testimony of his impact on the world. It is a dispassionate testimony, but a testimony nonetheless. Josephus makes some bold statements without saying too much. He tells us about the types of things he did. He tells us he was a teacher. He also tells us that Jesus taught the truth. He tells us that he was the Christ the anointed one. He tells us of his trial, execution and consequently his resurrection. Josephus, in his historical account, actually testifies about the true nature of Christ. Today, we are capable of sharing our account of Jesus with so much more boldness, with so much more understanding, with so many more facts. Let’s look at Jesus with some of the understanding we have. Let’s expand on what Josephus said about Jesus being a “doer of wonderful works”. Let’s look at Jesus our miracle working savior. There are approximately 36 miracles found in the New Testament which Jesus performed. Jesus made the lame walk, he made the blind see. He cured disease. He removed demons from the possessed. He calmed the seas, he walked on water. He fed the many with little. He even raised the dead. These miracles outline just who Jesus is. If you remember a couple of years ago we talked about Jesus and his miracles. We talked about Jesus being the Master of our circumstances in spite of our inabilities to change them. These miracles are like a silent alarm for us. We know they are there but we don’t often wake up to what they inform us about.

One such miracle account can be found in Mark 2:1-12 where we read “And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” This miracle that Jesus performed demonstrates his authority to forgive sins, his power to heal, and the responsibility that we have to bring others to Jesus! That’s fulfilling the Great Commission!

We start with four burdened men. We don’t know who they were or what they did for a living. We don’t know what their names were. We don’t know if they were a bunch of old guys or bunch of young ones. We don’t know if they were rich or poor. We don’t know if they were educated or not. We don’t even know if they really knew each other. If they were family or friends, sons carrying their father, or uncles carrying their nephew. We don’t even know of the duration of their faith in Jesus. Were they newly converted that day. Did they hear Jesus speaking that day, run home, and bring the paralytic? Or had they heard him before, had they surrendered to Jesus months before? So what do we know about these four men? We know that they were concerned about a sick friend. We know that they were willing and physically able to pick this man and his bed up, and carry him to where Jesus was preaching. We know that they believed that Christ would meet the paralytic’s need. They knew, nay they believed, they had the faith that if they were to bring this man before Jesus that he would be, not could be, healed. They were burdened enough to go. They realized the opportunity to come before Jesus is limited and that they had to seize the opportunity to get that man to Jesus. We also know that they were willing and persistent enough to move mountains, or in this case, the roof to get this man to Jesus.

Are we burdened like these men? Do we bring people before Jesus? Do we see the opportunities when they happen and act on them. Or do we look the other way. Have you met someone, and knew immediately that you had something to say to them about Jesus, but you were too ashamed to speak, or you were too worried that you might offend them by saying something wrong? So you didn’t say anything at all? How many people do we know who are like the paralytic man? Having a need so great, that only Jesus could heal it? There are many people in this world and in our lives who are paralyzed. It is only when someone brings them before Jesus that their paralysis can be healed. Would you be a stretcher bearer? Would you help a brother or a sister bring the paralytic in your life before Jesus?

Otherwise, what will happen if no one wants to pick up that corner of the stretcher. What will happen if that paralytic can’t get himself before Jesus? What happens to people when the Christian does not go? People are left to die in their sins. I’m not going to try and make you feel guilty for not witnessing. That’s not why I’m here. But, one day, we will all have to answer before Jesus why we didn’t witness to this person or that person when we had the chance. Why didn’t we help bring the paralytics in our lives to Jesus? We need to remember that we only have a little time left before Jesus’ return. We need to be found doing what Jesus has commissioned us all to do-witness! Otherwise, what will Jesus find, when he opens up that book about our works. Will he find pages and pages of the misdeeds we have done in our willful disobedience of sharing the Gospel truth? Will he read aloud all the names of the people that we have sent to Hell because we never witnessed to them!? Because we never brought them before Jesus, or we never helped carry that paralytic? This is why the hymn “Rescue the Perishing” is so prominent in this series I’ve been preaching about. Church we need to be out there. We need to rescue the perishing, care for the dying! People are dying in their sins! They will one day stand before Jesus and be permanently cast out of his presence! They will be cast into that lake of fire! We must snatch them from sin and the grave. Our hearts must weep over the erring one. We must awaken with ourselves the heart, the true heart of Jesus, to see sinners saved! Like these men in Mark-we must lift up the fallen and tell them of Jesus the Mighty to save! We must bring them before Jesus! Rescue the perishing, duty demands it! That’s the duty we have to carry out the Great Commission, to witness, to share the Gospel, to go spell it out for them. Don’t worry about the things to say, rather trust in he of whom you speak. Trust in the name of Jesus. Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide!

Today, most going is left to the pastors. Only the Pastor can lead someone to the Lord. Only the Pastor can visit someone and talk to them about Jesus. Today’s church has become lazy in appointing all the tasks of the Christian, onto one man-the Pastor. It’s true, that a pastor has these areas of responsibility. But he is to lead in this. When someone leads, others should follow. Look at Acts 8:3-4 it says “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” When Saul came through everyone was scattered. The early Christians went everywhere, and preached, and taught, and witnessed. These early Christians had it hard. They were fearful of persecution. Here was Saul running around the country pulling people out of their homes and putting them in prison for believing in Jesus. Yet they still witnessed. They still shared the truth about Jesus. What do we have to be afraid of? We have so many freedoms in this country, why don’t we talk to others about Jesus? It wasn’t just Pastors that were doing the witnessing. It was all the Christians.

What else do we find in this account from Mark? The roof. These four men who are duty bound to get this paralytic man to Jesus, find their way blocked. The house was too crowded to get in, let alone with a stretcher. It seems like there are always obstacles when we try to bring someone before Christ. The way just seems blocked with the well-intentioned, or the curious. Perhaps, our road blocks are more subtle. Perhaps we trip over a doctrine. Religion. There’s something that can really get in our way. How about the “well intentioned” ever have to navigate around them. Perhaps some family members or even some family traditions. There are so many different things out there that can trip us up. So many things that seem to hinder our ability to witness. So many things that impede the path we take to bring the paralytic to Jesus.

But notice even though these four men faced an impenetrable crowd gathered around Jesus in what was probably tight quarters, they still strove to find a way to get the paralytic man to Jesus. It was quite clever of them too. They found that the only way to Jesus was to go through the roof! What a scene that must have been! Here Jesus is preaching in a crowded house when all of a sudden you hear footsteps above you. Then you here some rustling as part of the roof is pulled up. You look up to see these four faces looking down at you. A couple of people are probably coughing from the dust in the air. Others are squinting at the sudden burst of light from the new skylight. You probably start to hear some murmuring going on too. “What are those fools doing” someone scolds under their breath. You probably hear a half whispered “sorry” from the new hole in the ceiling. Well that’s not too bad, you think, They just wanted to see Jesus preach. But lo and behold, two of the men up there hurry away and you hear more shuffling as you see the feet of a fifth man coming down through the hole in the ceiling. He’s lying on his bed. Now you hear the gasp running through the crowd. There’s somethings that are unsaid in this passage. For example, did the four men just dangle the paralytic from the roof in front of Jesus? Did anyone in that house help those four men? Did the owner of the house get mad, or even outspoken about his roof being pulled apart? Does it all really matter? I think some of it does. Why were the scribes sitting? All this commotion going on and they remain sitting. Let me tell you, if I were sitting there in the pews while Pastor preached some Sunday and a whole opened up in the ceiling, you better believe that I would get up. I’d want to see what was going on. But the scribes didn’t budge. I’d say that the scribes didn’t even care. Is that an attitude that we have picked up today? Do we care when someone brings a sinner before Jesus? Or do we just sit in our seats and completely dismiss the situation. Do we sit there and criticize how the preacher does another altar call or do we get up? Perhaps, there were some conscientious Christians in that house who, as soon as they saw the feet of the paralytic coming through that roof, elbowed their way forward a little to help relieve the awkward stress of the four men on the roof lowering the paralytic. Perhaps it takes more than four men to bring someone before Jesus. There is always a way to get the paralytic to Jesus, and we must be willing to bare him just a little further to see that it is done. No matter what it takes, no matter what the cost. We must push on to bring our paralytics to Christ.

It is a matter of faith. Can we be an effective witness for Christ? Of course we can. We must rely on our faith. No-we must completely rely on our faith to provoke us to action. We need to remember what Paul said in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We must remember that Jesus has all power, and all authority given to him. We must remember that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in this world”. Faith, it provokes us to act in the name of Jesus. It shows the world that we are different. Our faith in Jesus Christ separates us from the world. Do others see your faith in action? If Jesus were to put on a pair of jeans and hoodie, and watch you at church, would he see your faith? What if he watched you at work? How about at home? Would he see your faith? What if he watched you while you shopped for groceries? Would he see your faith? Through all the commotion of those four men breaking through the roof, not once did a word of condemnation, or rebuke part his lips. He didn’t look upon the inconvenience of having his preaching interrupted, he didn’t look upon the small mess they had created. NO. instead Jesus saw their faith. Four faithful came to him, bearing a burden, the paralytic. But afterwards, there were five that were found faithful that had left that house on foot.

We need to note the order of events in this passage of scripture. Jesus forgives the paralytic sins before he heals him. Jesus makes it a point to show everyone there that the most important thing was not a miraculous healing of the man’s paralysis, but rather, the divine forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness has priority with God. The scribes were taken aback though. They did not understand why Jesus did this. They believed him to be speaking blasphemy. Everyone knew that only God could forgive sins. Only God had that authority. Jesus perceived their thinking and demonstrated that he did have the authority to forgive sins by healing the paralytic. Do we remember to show others the authority that Jesus has? Especially, in the area of forgiving sins. When we do begin that process of leading a person to Christ, do we begin with sin and the need for forgiveness? Do we rely on the priority of being forgiven as Jesus demonstrated in this miracle? Does sin anchor someone to a past that they feel they cannot escape. Does sin bind the lost, to a hopeless existence? Does sin paralyze you so that you become a paralytic, unable to move on your own; and unable to leave your fears behind? Imagine, the force of knowing the one who has the authority to forgive you of your sins is so willing to do so, if you’ll just ask him to. If your four men, will bring you to Jesus. Imagine the joy that paralytic felt, knowing he was loved enough to be brought before Jesus, to have his sins forgiven, and his mobility and strength restored. Imagine the joy the paralytic felt when he heard the words “arise, take up your bed, and go to your house”. Imagine the joy he felt knowing that he could.

In this world today there is such a great need for stretcher-bearers. There is such a great need for people to be aware of the lost. There is such a great need for Christians to bring people before Jesus. There are people out there who will never come face to face with Jesus, because no one was attentive to their need. Because, they were left to fend for themselves in a world where sin could consume them. Christians everywhere need to stand up, see what’s going on, and get involved. We were all given a command to share the Gospel with everyone, everywhere. Let’s get out there and live by faith. Let our faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be evident for all the world to see. Let them come to us with questions, and let us in turn bring them before Jesus. There are so many people out there that will perish if we do nothing. What if those four men had refused to bring the paralytic man before Jesus. What if that was the only chance they had. We must persevere, we must fight on. There is always a way to the Master, but sometimes we have to do a little work to get them there. Don’t be the person that lets that opportunity slip through their fingers. Don’t be the person that stands in the way of someone getting to heaven. Don’t be the person that doesn’t do anything to keep people out of Hell. Remember these words from that hymn-“Though they are slighting him. Still he is waiting, waiting the penitent child to receive; plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently: He will forgive if they truly believe. Rescue the perishing, care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save”

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