This week I had a zoom meeting with about a dozen other pastors. I think I’ve mentioned to you before that every few months I get together the other AGC pastors in central Alberta and we share a little bit about what’s going on in our churches, we pray for each other, and we discuss a whole variety of different issues that come up.
And at our meeting this week, the question was asked: What do you think God is saying to the churches through this COVID-19 pandemic? Is God using this time to reshape how we think about church? Is He using this time to re-adjust our priorities and our focus? God doesn’t waste opportunities, so what do you think God wants us to learn through this challenging time?
There were several thoughts that came up, but the one that stuck out to me was this: Could it be that God is reminding us of the value of relationships?
In this time where everyone is separated and isolated from one another – could God be using this time to show us just how critical it is be be connected with one another?
The fact is, we are built for relationships! And I know I say that often – but it’s true! We are created and designed to live in healthy relationships with each other and with God.
Without those relationships – we wither and die inside. And perhaps some of us are feeling a little bit of that now. Being apart from our families, not having that personal interaction with our friends – being absent from our church family – it’s hard. It doesn’t feel right! There’s almost an emptiness we feel when we go so long being apart from one another.
And that’s because we were created for community – community with each other and community together with God. Separation and isolation were never part of God’s perfect plan for mankind.
I was reminded this week that Hell is defined by separation and isolation from God. It’s the worst possible scenario!
But in contrast to that, Heaven is being together with God. It’s being in his presence – seeing him face-to-face. That’s what we long for and hope for more than anything else in this world!
And I think that just speaks to this truth that we are created for community – we are created for relationships with each other and with God!
And perhaps God is using this pandemic to remind us of that and to give us a fresh, new understanding of that reality!
So with that in mind this morning, I want to look at the story of “Matman” and his friends! Not “Batman and his friends” but Matman and his friends.
And if you’re not familiar with that story, you can find it in Luke chapter 5 or it’s also recorded in Mark chapter 2. I’m going to read from Mark chapter 2 this morning. It goes like this:
1 When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. 2 Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. Mark 2:1-2a
And I’ll pause her for a minute just to give you a little bit of the background here. This is fairly early on in Jesus earthly ministry. He’s been going around to different towns throughout the region of Galilee preaching and teaching, doing miracles, healing people, and over-all, just attracting a lot of attention. Everyone’s hearing about this amazing Jesus fellow. And that’s why, when he comes back to his hometown of Capernaum, everybody wants to come see Jesus. He’s kinda like a celebrity at this point. They want to hear what he has to say and perhaps see him to a miracle or two!
And because of that, the house where he was staying was packed with visitors – so full in fact, that people were backed up – right out the door! On sermon I read described the house as being “packed tighter than a hippo in skinny jeans!” (Try to visualize that, if you can.) But you can just imagine everyone being squished together – shoulder to shoulder – all trying to get inside the house to get a glimpse of Jesus!
And that’s what’s going on when Matman and his friends arrive. It says in verse 2…
While he [Jesus] was preaching God’s word to them, 3 four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.
This is the guy that I call Matman. The Bible doesn’t give us his name or really any information about who he is other than the fact that he is paralyzed and his friends have to carry him in on his sleeping mat.
But even that much information is enough to help us understand where this guy is coming from. I want you to imagine for a minute what life would be like for that paralyzed man 2000 years ago in first century Israel.
We don’t know the extent of his paralysis, but we can probably assume that his whole life has been lived out on that mat that was maybe three feet wide and six feet long. That’s his world! He likely has had to depend on someone else to feed him, clothe him, carry him around, wash and clean him, to help him go to the bathroom.
He has no way to contribute to society. He has no job, no influence, and certainly no future.
There’s nothing can be done for him medically speaking. There’s no surgeries, no rehab programs, no treatment centres that can help him. All he can do is lay on the side of the road and beg for people to drop him enough coins so that he can live another day.
It’s a pretty dismal existence. But you know, he does have one thing going for him – he’s got four great friends.
Verse 3 tells us that as Jesus was preaching, “four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.”
Now that seems like a simple enough statement, but it got me to wondering: How do you suppose these guys all knew each other? They obviously didn’t play on the same hockey team. They didn’t all work at the same vineyard. We don’t see any evidence that they were related… So what was their connection? Were they neighbours of this man? Were they childhood friends? How did these guys get connected in the first place?
Well, the Bible doesn’t really tell us that information. But obviously, these guys cared enough about this man to bring him to Jesus. And I think that really speaks to the relationship that they must have had with Matman. They obviously went out of their way and made some intentional effort to serve and care for their friend!
It was probably quite an inconvenience (to say the least) to carry a paralyzed guy across town to go see this Jesus guy. But it seems these four guys were willing to do exactly that for their friend.
And I guess, really, that’s how friendships work. You’re willing to endure some inconveniences to serve your friends. You’re willing to make some sacrifices. Intentional effort has to be made in any relationship.
Jesus said in John 15:13
13 “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
There is this built-in factor of sacrifice in any relationship. There is a measure of intentional effort to serve one another that is required.
A good example of this is in marriage. You might “fall in love at first sight” – but that doesn’t mean there is any relationship there. Not yet anyway. A strong, loving, marriage relationship is only developed through intentional effort. You need to choose to spend time with each other, to share with one another, to do things for each other. Those are all intentional choices!
You married couples know the heights and the depths you went to in order to build your relationship with your spouse back when you were dating. I remember one weekend when Heather was going to Bible school up by Grand Prairie and I was going to Bible school up in northern Saskatchewan – we were 13 hours apart. But this one weekend, I decided to make the 13 hour drive from my school to hers, visit for a few hours, only to turn around and drive back another 13 hours to get back in time for classes. That’s 26 hours of driving in one weekend just to spend one day with my future wife-to-be. But you know, you do those impractical things when you’re in love. No distance is too far. No effort is too great. No sacrifice is too much!
Heather & I have been married for nearly 20 years now – and we still have to put intentional effort into our relationship. Cuz if we don’t, eventually we’ll have no relationship. We’ll simply drift apart. We have to continually put intentional effort into our marriage.
The same principle applies in your relationship with God. You have to put in the effort of building a relationship with Him – getting to know him through reading his Word and through prayer and obedience. If you don’t, before long, you won’t really have a relationship with Him at all. You’ll simply drift apart.
Relationships grow and thrive when we put intentional effort into them.
And on a little bit of a side note, perhaps that’s why the first century church grew so much so fast. From that little band of 12 disciples – Christianity exploded all over the Roman empire. In fact, I was reading that by the time that the last apostle died, there was approximately one million Christians in the world. That’s amazing! How did that happen? I think it had a lot to do with the intentional effort they put into their relationships – both with each other and with God. Acts chapter 2 gives us some insight on this – starting at verse 42 it says.
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
What an awesome description of the church! Doesn’t that sound like something you’d want to be part of? That sounds like a fantastic community to be part of. But did you notice all the intentional effort that was required?
- They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to eating together, and to prayer.
- They sold their property and possessions to take care of each others’ needs.
- They worshipped together every single day.
- They continually gathered together and shared their homes, they shared their meals – they shared everything they had!
All that stuff didn’t just happen by accident – they made some intentional choices to make all that happen. Now I’m not saying we need to do all those exact same things today – especially not with all our social distancing restrictions, but do we put that kind of intentional effort into building our relationships with each other and with God?
While there may be many things we can’t do – there are SO many things that we can do to build into the relationships that we have.
I think particularly about our families and our neighbors. We don’t see much of anyone else these days – but we sure see a lot of them! I’ve noticed in our little close where we live, that we have way more people walking through our neighbourhood now than we’ve ever seen before. And all of this is a fantastic opportunity to build relationships with people.
Because as we’ve said before – life is all about our relationships. Its what we were created for! And it’s through these relationships that we build with our friends and neighbours that hopefully we can help lead them into a relationship with Christ.
So to get back to our story, for this paralyzed guy on the mat, while he didn’t have much else going for him – he had a great relationship with his four friends and they led him to a great relationship with God – and that’s what made all the difference in his life – as we shall soon see. Let’s continue reading in Mark 2 – starting back again at verse 2.
“2 Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, 3 four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. 4 They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head.”
Ok, so let’s think about this for a minute. Try to imagine how this all went down. Here we have these four buddies. They hear that Jesus is in town and they immediately think of their friend on the mat. They say to each other, “We’ve got to get our friend on the mat to Jesus. I’ve heard He can make the blind see and the lame walk – maybe He can heal our friend!” So they tell their buddy on the mat – “We’re gonna take you to see Jesus tomorrow morning – we’ll pick you up at 8:00.” And of course, that literally meant they would PICK HIM UP at 8:00.
So they go get him the next morning, and they get to the house where Jesus was – but the place is just packed out. Verse 2 tells us that there wasn’t even room outside the door. So there is no way they can get through the crowd with their buddy on the mat and get to Jesus.
But then, instead of them getting discouraged and going home, one of them gets the great idea – “Hey, let’s rip a hole in the roof and then we’ll lower him down through the hole right in front of Jesus!”
Ok, who comes up with the idea of lowering a paralyzed guy on a mat through a hole in the roof? I mean, not even Greg would come up with something as crazy as that. Well… Maybe he would. But the point is, these guys were determined to help their friend. They weren’t going to let anything stand in their way – not a crowd of people and certainly not a little ol’ roof.
And I think that’s a great reminder for us today. Our mission as a church – in fact our mission as Christians is to make disciples. It’s to help people come to know and love Jesus. That purpose hasn’t changed with the arrival of COVID-19. Now certainly, we face some challenging obstacles. How do we make disciples when we’re all stuck at home? We can’t do all the same things we’ve always done!
Well, we might just have to get creative! We might just have to tear a hole in the roof or whatever it takes!
We can’t just wait to make disciples until the pandemic is over and everything goes back to normal. Who knows – that may never happen! There are people who need Jesus today. And so we need to do everything that we can to make that happen. There are opportunities everywhere if we just look for them.
Ephesians 5 gives us a good reminder.
“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” Ephesians 5:15-17
I’m not sure we’re very wise to just zone out and watch Netflix for the next six weeks or six months! We need to make the most of every opportunity we have. We need to determine what God would have us do to build his kingdom even today.
How can we bless our neighbors? How can we build our relationships with our kids? How can we use this opportunity to share the Good News with others?
We need to be like those four friends – when they had the opportunity to see their paralyzed friend be healed – they made the most of that opportunity. They were not going to let anything get in their way. Not the crowds. Not even the roof. Nothing was going to stop them from introducing their friend to Jesus. We need to do the same.
Well, let’s see what happened with these four guys.
“They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Mark 2:5
And I can just imagine what a ruckus that would have made. I mean, Jesus is down there trying to preach and suddenly bits of clay and straw and sticks start falling down around him. Then some bigger chunks crash to the floor. And then finally the sun bursts though the hole in the roof. By this point, I’m sure Jesus has stopped preaching – and everyone is watching as the hole gets larger and larger. And then finally, this mat appears and gets lowered down right in front of Jesus…
Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”
6 But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, 7 “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
8 Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? 9 Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?
So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11 “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
12 And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” Mark 2:5-12
What an example of a radically changed life! His sins forgiven – His body healed – He would never be the same. And that is exactly the point. God’s in the business of radically changing people’s lives – and what’s super cool is that He uses us to help Him do it. Yes, it was God who forgave the man’s sins, and yes, it was God who healed his body.
But what would have happened if those four friends hadn’t cared enough to bring that man to Jesus? What if they had become discouraged when they saw that they couldn’t get to Jesus because of the crowd? What if they hadn’t thought of had the crazy idea to rip a hole in the roof above Jesus and lower their friend down? These four friends were absolutely key to this man’s radical change. In fact, look at verse 4 & 5 again.
“They lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:4-5
It says “seeing their faith” – not just the faith of the paralyzed man – but “their faith” – the faith of his four friends. That’s what moved Jesus to act. Those four friends were far more instrumental in bringing healing to this man’s life than what you might think. Not only did they bring him to Jesus – overcoming every obstacle that stood in their way, but it was their faith in Jesus that led Him to radically transform this paralyzed man’s life.
God’s in the business of radically changing people’s lives – and He uses people – He uses us – to help Him do it.
And maybe we don’t have to dig a hole through a roof to lower someone down to Jesus – but we may have to do a lot more. We have to invest a lot of kindness, a lot of prayer, and a lot of conversations with someone to lead them to Jesus. It might even take us years of effort.
But investing in relationships is always a worthwhile investment. It’s what we were created for. In fact, it’s the only thing that we’ll take with us into eternity – our relationship with God, and our relationship with others.
So build relationships. Take the time and make the effort to get to know the people around you. We don’t know what God is already doing in their life. We don’t know how our relationship with them may one day lead them to meet Jesus and have him radically change their life.
While we may be facing a lot of new obstacles these days as we try to reach people for Christ, we can be sure that with those new obstacles come a whole lot of new opportunities too.
So let’s make the most of those opportunities this week! Let’s choose to invest in our relationships with others – our kids, our spouse, our neighbors – and let’s partner with God as He works through us to radically change lives!