Sunday, January 25th @ St Barnabas
Reading – Mark 2:1-12
This is a rather different kind of sermon, designed specifically for our all-age worship and baptism service, and what was so encouraging was the way the children in the church engaged with the questions! It’s good if we can get children to engage with Scripture, rather than simply use All-Age Worship as a means of entertaining them with activities.
Well, as we come to our passage this morning from Mark’s gospel, I thought I’d like to start by thinking about friends. After all, friends are important. We all have them; we all like to spend time with them, and they make the world a so much better place. So I was wondering if any of the children would like to tell me what they to do with their friends and why their friends are so important…
Now in our gospel reading this morning we come across a paralysed man who had four particular, special friends. At least we that’s what the writer of Mark’s gospel says. But how do we know that they really were his friends? What special thing did they do for him? That’s right – they dug a hole in the roof and lowered him down in front of Jesus. Wasn’t that an incredibly special and brave thing to do? After all, it was pretty kind of them to bring their friend to the house where Jesus was staying in the first place. Not every group of friends would necessarily bother to make the effort to carry somebody all that way, even if it was just round the corner, or from the next street. But when they saw the crowds stretching out of the door and realised the place was jam-packed, what did they do then?
Well, most people, I imagine would have given up at this point and said, “Sorry, mate, nothing doing today”. But these four friends were willing to something truly extraordinary, something incredibly daring, just to get this paralysed man before Jesus. They went up onto the flat roof of the house, began to dig through the thatch, and then very carefully, lowered the man through the hole with a spare bit of rope they happened to have lying around. If you want an example from the Bible of true friends, then this is the place to go.
But why did these four friends go to such great lengths to bring their mate to Jesus? Has anyone got any idea? Well, I reckon they must have heard something about the great miracles Jesus was doing or meet someone who had been healed by Him, and they must have decided here was the one chance for this paralysed man to get better. And because he was so important to them they weren’t going to let anything or anyone get in the way of their plan. If they had to drag him up onto a roof, and then tear the roof apart, then so be it. They wanted him to meet Jesus because they believed Jesus and Jesus alone could make a difference.
So picture the scene. Jesus has been interrupted in his teaching; the crowds have fallen silent, and maybe one or two of them are brushing bits of straw out of their hair, and the four friends are peering anxiously down through the hole they have made. And in the middle of it all is this paralysed man who has gatecrashed, if not roof-crashed, the whole scene. What do you think the friends were expecting Jesus to say to Him? “Get up and walk” “Son, I am going to heal you” “Satan, come out!?” And what did Jesus actually say? That’s right – as Mark 2:5 puts it, When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I wonder how the four friends reacted this point? Surprised, confused, even angry. After all, they had brought their mate along to be healed and Jesus was now saying that sins were forgiven. It just didn’t seem to make sense.
But Mark doesn’t record their reaction because the focus of the story now switches to some other people who were sitting in the house that day – the teachers of law. Who were they? Well, in many ways they were the vicars of the day. They were the professional religious people who sought to show people the right way to God. We don’t know why they were there that day. Maybe they were genuinely interested in seeing who Jesus was. Maybe they wanted to check out the healings this man Jesus was doing. After all, if God was healing people through the son of a carpenter, then it was pretty serious stuff, and really a bit of a threat to their position.
So imagine their reaction when Jesus stood in front of the paralysed man and said: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” It was something completely and utterly unheard of, something dangerous and revolutionary. And in some ways they were right when they said He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? Because if Jesus really was just a man, then what He was saying was blasphemy. Yes, I could go up to someone, “I forgive you” if had done something wrong to me. But to say, “I forgive you your sins”, “I forgive you all the things that you ever have done wrong”, that’s quite a different story.
So the real question, then, is “Who is this Jesus?” That, I’m sure must have been the question the paralysed man must have been asking as he lay on his mat in the middle of the crowd. After all, his friends had brought him to be healed and instead Jesus had told him his sins were forgiven. Jesus had then ended up in a some kind of religious argument with the teachers of the law, and here he was, still lying on the floor, wondering what on earth was going on.
But then…Jesus at last turns to him, and I can imagine at that moment there is a wonderful, broad smile on His face as He says, “I tell you, get up your mat, and go home.” Now Mark doesn’t tell us how this paralysed man reacted. We don’t know if he was surprised or tearful or even completely shocked. But we do know the one thing about him that really matters. He did exactly what Jesus told him. He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.
You see, the paralysed man, whoever he was, learnt a very important lesson that day which was this: that believing in Jesus is not so much asking Jesus can do for you (although He can and does do wonderful miracles and healings); it’s far more about finding out what you can do for Jesus, about trusting Him as your Saviour and doing exactly what He says. So as he went home and no doubt celebrated with the friends who had brought him there, he wasn’t only celebrating the fact he was able to walk and jump and dance. He was celebrating the fact that Jesus had forgiven him all his sins and given him a fresh start. And in many ways, that was the greater miracle. A new beginning with God, a relationship with Him as Father, the joy and peace of knowing His love. What else therefore could he do but give thanks and do as Jesus commanded?
Well, this is all very nice, but what’s it got to do with our baptism this morning? L is a perfectly healthy, bouncy toddler who is well able to run around and to make her views known, and it’s great to have her – more children are always welcome here. But, if I can put it this way, she needs, even at this young age, to be brought to Jesus, just as the paralysed man was in our story. So our baptism service where the parents and the godparents speak on her behalf is a chance where they make a commitment to do just that. Not just through one service held on one Sunday morning, but through a lifetime of love and care and prayer for L so that she comes to understand who Jesus is and indeed that He is the best friend she can ever have.
But the question I want to ask is this: what do you expect Jesus to do for L? It’s interesting, when I talk about baptism to folk generally, they talk about wanting to give thanks for Johnny’s safe arrival into the world, or take him along to Sunday school, or for him to learn Christian values, and all those things are great. But right at the heart of the service are these questions about repenting of your sins, and turning to Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. And the reason why those questions are there is quite simply these are the most important reasons anyone of us here this morning have for turning to Christ. Because it is Jesus alone who can say, “Your sins are forgiven”, Jesus alone who can give us a fresh start with God, Jesus alone who bring us new life. So even before we think about what Jesus can do for L, all of us need to think whether we ourselves have recognised Jesus for who He is, or whether, like the teachers of the law in our reading, we don’t really want to accept Him as anything more than a mere human being who lived 2000 years ago.
Because, in the end, L will learn who Jesus is, not simply by the things she is taught at church, but the example of the people around here, family, friends, people here at this church. And if she herself see people who are willing to trust Jesus and do what He says, then the chances are that there will come a time when she will do that for herself. And surely our one prayer for her today should be that one day like the paralysed man she will meet Jesus personally, that she will hear His voice and discover that joy, that peace of knowing Jesus has died and risen again for her. So let’s make sure we know Jesus for ourselves, and let’s commit ourselves to showing her and indeed all those we know and love Jesus in our lives, our actions, and all our ways.