They finally made it. It had taken a while. By the time they had prepared the stretcher for their friend and gathered the necessary items for the journey the morning had nearly passed. They had hurried as fast as they could but their speed was hampered somewhat by the condition of their friend. As the four men hoisted their friend laying on the stretcher onto their shoulders each one of them could see the look of hope in his eyes. How could anyone resist that look? Indeed as they began walking each one of them was filled with their own version of that hope.
They passed others on the way: a blind man, someone with a bandage around his head, and there was a woman carrying a child with open infected sores on its arms. As they got closer to the house, more and more people were walking beside them. Finally they got to a point where they could go on no more because of the size of the crowd. They set down their friend on a shaded place by the steps of a porch. One of the friends got on the shoulders of another and looked over the heads to see what was happening. As he got down the man on the stretcher looked up with a questioning look.
“Sorry, I don’t know if we’re going to get in there – there’s just too many people surrounding the house. We’ll have to try and get to Jesus another day.”
The men looked at their friend on the mat and he shrugged his shoulders, “oh well, thanks guys for making the effort!” Valiant words, but they could see the disappointment in his eyes. Something seized them in that moment and they looked at each other while their friend lay down on the mat. One of men peered down the alleyway behind the stretcher and noticed that there was a ladder leaning against the wall that reached the roof. He stepped out into street a bit and gauged the distance between the houses lining the street leading up to the house where the master was. He quickly gathered the rest of the men together and began pointing as he explained his plan. They nodded in agreement, it was worth a try.
Their paralytic friend was startled out of his rest as the men picked up the mat and moved toward the ladder. It wasn’t easy getting up the ladder and required some rather uncomfortable positions. There were a couple moments where the paralytic man almost slid out of his stretcher – but his friends were careful and they made it to the roof safely. One of the men pulled up the ladder and it became a makeshift bridge between the roofs of the remaining houses. As the men moved from rooftop to rooftop people in the streets began pointing and murmuring among themselves, wondering what these men were up to and what kind of predicament they were putting their friend in.
As the group of men and their paralytic friend approached their destination they began to hear the voice of the one they sought. They could hear Him speaking and teaching and the closer they got the more they began to make out what He was saying.
Then as they crossed over the improvised bridge one last time they set down their friend on the roof. The paralytic looked with love to his friends and said, “Thank you my friends, It is good that at least I can hear His voice and drink in His words.”
His friends simply smiled and said, “We’re not done yet!” Each of them took off their cloaks and their shirts and two of them began weaving them into makeshift ropes while the other two began to remove the thatch from the roof and work their way through the sturdy material. The paralytic man, propped up on an elbow began to wonder if His friends had gone mad, the owner of the house would not be happy or what if the roof of the house gave way?
The people in the house had heard the initial footsteps on the roof but many of them were simply listening too closely to the teacher to give any thought to why there might be that sound. But then, eventually their attention became distracted by the falling debris from the ceiling and the ray of light when the men on the roof poked through. By the time the hole was big enough to accommodate the stretcher the crowd below were watching with puzzled looks. The teacher was watching as well. Having stopped speaking when the first small hole appeared, he now looked, not with a puzzled gaze, like the others, but instead with expectation. He knew what these men were up to.
Then the men on the roof went to their friend on the stretcher and attached their makeshift ropes and lowered him to the feet of the teacher. Peering through the hole in the ceiling with sweat dripping from their faces and their chests heaving, they watched, hoping, waiting to see what Jesus would do. Finally they had made it. Then Jesus spoke…
In the gospel according to Mark we find the account of an incredible blessing in the life of a young man who was paralyzed. A blessing that occurred in his life because He had friends who didn’t let a crowd, or a roof get in the way of bringing their friend to Jesus. It is significant that scripture records the first action of Jesus in response to the efforts of these men is to commend them for their faith – a faith that led them to even bring down a roof to get help for their friend.
Now there are a lot of things that stand out in this story, but today I want to ask one question that I believe the Holy Spirit would have us ask this morning. “What roofs is in your way?” I believe that God desires that every single one of us would not only know great blessing in our lives but also be agents of great blessing in other people’s lives.
Jesus himself said once, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
John 1:16 (NIV)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
Ephesians 1:3 (NIV)
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
1 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
The thing about God’s blessing is that scripture teaches the principle that living in God’s blessing for your own life involves God blessing others through you. That is what happened in this story.
Blessing is one of those words that can have any one of a dozen meanings depending on your perspective. Generally speaking though, when we think of blessing we think of something that is good – something that is beneficial – and something that is a realized desire.
In scripture, blessing is always connected with God. God is the source of every good blessing – his very presence is a blessing. More specifically the New Testament teaches us that the greatest blessing is life found in Jesus Christ. That’s the significance of the story this morning. What consumed the thoughts and actions of these men was getting their friend to Jesus. Jesus is the source of the blessing.
So if it is God’s desire that we experience His blessing and that He blesses others through us, what are the roofs in your way? What keeps people from living in the blessing of God? There are far too many people (some of you who are sitting here today) who are not living in God’s blessing let alone being a blessing to others.
The thickest roof that stands between man and God is the exaltation of self. That is, when the Almighty “me” is placed on a pedestal of necessity. Friends the Bible doesn’t speak against loving who you are, or loving the way God has made you, or thinking good about yourself. But the Bible does have much to say against those who worship themselves. That is they are consumed with the preservation, the pleasure, and the promotion of themselves.
Jesus, in a conversation one day with a man shared the two greatest commandments. Commandments that shatter this humanistic idolatry of self.
– two greatest commandments Love God with all your heart….
– Love your neighbor as yourself.
What stands out about the paralytic man and his friends is that the roof between them and Jesus was torn apart by a faith carried by selflessness. These men were doing what they did out of a love for their friend and were not thinking of what they could get out of it. And so they entered into the blessing of Christ.
Now I want to help you with answering the question, “what roof is in your way?” this morning. I believe that scripture can help us answer that question. On principle, most of us will vehemently deny we worship ourselves! But then, can you confidently say you are living in the blessing of God? Can you most assuredly say that the full blessing of God is working through you? If so, then that’s awesome! Feel free to tune out and spend some time thinking about what you’re going to do after the service. I suspect, though that some of you are interested in knowing what roofs are in your way this morning.
The worship of self is exhibited in many symptoms but I’m just going to mention a few this morning.
1. The pursuit of comfort
The pursuit of comfort is illustrated by the thought, “I’ll just pass on the pain”. This pursuit is directed by the path of least resistance. Self-worshipers don’t like being uncomfortable, and will avoid any discomfort at all costs and do whatever it takes to remain in the place of comfort. Decisions and choices are made with the consideration of whether it will contribute to their comfort or will make things uncomfortable. These people don’t like feeling uncomfortable let alone being uncomfortable.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want a little comfort in your life. After all, it’s nice to have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, and clothes on our backs. It becomes a problem when an individual sees pain as an enemy and is constantly looking for ways to increase their comfort with the least amount of effort.
What does this lead to?
a. Rebellion and Disobedience
Take the example of Jonah in the Bible. God wanted to bless him and make him a blessing to the people of Nineveh. Because of the evil lifestyle and actions of the people of Nineveh, God was about to pour out the wrath of his judgment on them. But because of God’s grace and mercy He wanted to give them a chance to repent first. So, God decided to send the prophet Jonah. To this preacher God said one word, “GO”! That is a small word, but it carried with it a big blessing. But Jonah’s reply was “NO”! That is a small word, too, but it cut off the blessing.
Jonah didn’t go to Nineveh for two reasons – he didn’t want the Ninevites to be rescued from God’s wrath and it would mean leaving the comfort of His current life. The ironic thing about people who pursue comfort is that they don’t ever reach that place of comfort! There came a time when God conquered Jonah’s rebellious spirit, but the Lord had to send Jonah through a terrible storm, where he was tossed overboard, swallowed by a whale, lived in the belly of a whale for three days, and spit up on dry land before Jonah learned his lesson.
b. Resistance to Change
Another fruit of this pursuit is that there will be a resistance to change. Granted, not all change is good – but healthy growth always involves positive change. And change always means some degree of discomfort as we learn to adapt to that change. A common saying of the self-worshiper is, “but that’s the way it’s always been done.” What they’re really saying is, “that’s all I’m comfortable with”.
Another fruit of this pursuit and one that is more social in nature is the indifference it creates towards any discomfort among our fellow man. “Well I’m okay, that’s all that matters”. Indifference can not only affect how we care for others but it also can affect our attitude towards opportunity. Opportunities to experience God’s blessing and for God’s blessing to work through you will come and go because of the indifference towards what might bring discomfort into your life.
Dig through the roof…
What roof is in your way? Is it the quest for comfort? Do you think the friends of the paralytic man would have even carried him as far as they did up that street if they were only concerned for their comfort? If comfort was their pursuit, then forget about them carrying their friend to a roof and digging through to get Him to Jesus!
But we know that they did carry their friend to Jesus because of their love for their friend and because they were not worshippers of self. Selfless people don’t see pain or discomfort as something to be avoided but instead as something that contributes to the significance and value of their end goal. Sure those men were dripping sweat and probably had raw hands and sore muscles from carrying their friend and getting Him to Jesus. Then of course there wasn’t only the physical cost of their actions but there is also the discomfort that they probably faced after when the owner of the house sent them the bill for the hole in his roof! But here’s the thing, as those guys were looking down at their friend and Jesus reaching out to Him, were they thinking it was worth it?
If we’re going to dig through the roof of the pursuit of comfort we have to realize that true comfort from this world is an illusion. Such a pursuit will lead to a hollow, meaningless, and yes even comfortless existence. True comfort is only obtained outside of this world and finds it’s source in God.
2. The pursuit of pleasure
A close cousin to the pursuit of comfort is the pursuit of pleasure. Not everyone who is a worshipper of self is in pursuit of comfort. In fact there are many in the world today that practice the mantra of “no pain, no gain”. But everyone who is a worshipper of self is in pursuit of pleasure.
The pursuit of pleasure comes in a myriad of shapes and forms and manifestations but it nearly always is best expressed in the question, “What’s in it for me?” – “What do I get out of this?” The pursuit of pleasure is also one of those insidious symptoms of self-worship that isn’t always easy to spot – especially in the seemingly charitable actions of others. Yet there are many self-worshippers in our world who give money or even volunteer for a “good work” after first evaluating what they will get out of it. How many people in churches today evaluate what the church does in terms of how many people come into the church as a result of that activity? How many people in churches today ask before doing anything, “what’s in it for us?”
Again, like the pursuit of comfort, it’s not wrong to want a little pleasure in your life! But the problem is that when pleasure becomes a driving force in your life you end up cutting yourself off from the blessings of God. Instead of allowing God to grow and lead us to the good pasture of pleasure, a self-worshipper grazes on the putrid ground of rotting thrills.
Self-Worshippers get caught in a pursuit that never satisfies them. And the saddest thing? The saddest thing is that there are so many Christians caught in the consumerist mindset arising from this pursuit. A calamity that has left much of the western church with a Christianity that bears little resemblance to the church of Acts and a lifestyle that has little to offer that’s different from the world.
Demas is an illustration of this point. He was a young man who heard Paul preach one day. He was drawn by the Holy Spirit in the truth that God spoke through Paul. Every word was a challenge to this young man’s heart. In a great moment of spiritual ecstasy he cried out, “I will leave everything and go with this man in the service of Jesus Christ”. Such a great decision! There is little greater than someone who will willingly commit themselves to God and God’s work. Demas was right by Paul’s side. He was a joy and a help to him. But they journeyed to the great city, and attraction of the pleasures the world offered him blinded the eyes of Demas (2 Timothy 4:10). Demas deserted Paul and the calling God has placed on his life and cut off every blessing for himself and for others whom he might have served.
There is an article I came across once by George Barna who has been researching the North American church for many decades. In the article, he describes that most Christians and non-Christians have the same values, the same wants and desires. He went on to say that many Christians believe what they want is Biblically accurate, even though what they believe is more in line with what our western culture promotes than what the Bible teaches. Here’s a couple he listed:
i. Acquisitions: Our culture defines happiness in terms of what we have: bank accounts, homes, clothes and cars. Or, happiness is defined by experiences: fine restaurants, sporting events, skiing trips, and tours of Europe.
ii. Merit-based: Our value and position depend in some measure upon our parents status and in great measure upon our accomplishments.
This even happens in the church. When I was a youth pastor I would sometimes receive from well-meaning Christians the question, “So when are you going to become a real pastor?”
Dig through the roof…
What roof is in your way? Is it the pursuit of pleasure? Were the friends of the paralytic man thinking about what was in it for them when they lifted up his stretcher and carried him to the house where Jesus was? Were they really thinking about what benefit they would get when they dug through the bird crap, dirt, mud and thatch to poke a hole through the roof of the house? Here’s the thing, they weren’t doing any of this for their own pleasure and no doubt it wasn’t a very pleasurable experience! But still, they were looking to bless their friend. And in the process they were blessed too.
If we are to break through the roof of self-worship then we need to recognize the symptoms of the pursuit of pleasure and eradicate that pursuit from our life. We need to realize that healthy pleasure isn’t so much a destination as it is the result of a process. When pleasure is viewed merely as a destination it results in an unhealthy pursuit. It results in the accumulation of things or the chasing of experiences to satisfy that lust for pleasure.
When we understand that pleasure is the result of process we discover it in places we never thought of before. How many young people dream of the day they get married. They pursue the ideal mate and that romantic “happily ever after” vision promoted by the fairytales of their childhood. Then they meet the person and complete the ceremony and, well that’s it. They’ve reached the destination – but it doesn’t seem to be all that it’s cracked up to be. The pleasure in great marriages isn’t the destination, it’s the process. So many marriages are falling apart today because marriage is viewed as a destination rather than a process. If you enter marriage thinking you’ve achieved everything you need to make a great marriage work and pleasurable then you are deluded.
Now in saying this, I don’t mean that there is never pleasure in the destination. But what I am saying is that merely pursuing pleasure as a destination will result in a continual dissatisfaction.
Another important thing to remember that will help us dig through this roof is that the pleasure of this world is temporary and fleeting. Christ offers us a pleasure that is eternal and lasting. Jesus himself said,
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Matthew 6:19-20 (NIV)
What are treasures in heaven? They are the things that last beyond this world. The things that bring pleasure on an eternal scale rather than limited to the time we have here on earth.
One of the greatest of these eternal treasures is the pleasure of being a vehicle of blessing to others. In fact, God has wired us so that our greatest pleasure comes from loving and serving others. The path to being fulfilled and satisfied in life is found not in the accumulation of things and the amassing of accolades but is instead in the living out of God’s command to love your neighbor as yourself.
What roof is in your way?
(…the third symptom of those who worship themselves is…)
3. The pursuit of self-righteousness
Self-righteousness is best exemplified in the statement, “I have my rights”. In other words that either there are good things that I deserve because of what I’ve done or by virtue of who I am or there are things that should happen to you because of what you’ve done or by virtue of who you are.
A self-righteous person is also concerned most about appearances. It doesn’t really matter what they are thinking or storing away in their hearts or their minds but they are concerned about what others are thinking about them and how they appear to those of influence and other people who “have it all together”.
The pursuit of self-righteousness is like the pursuit of pleasure in that it is often insidious in character. Nevertheless it will rear it’s ugly head in several noticeable areas.
What does it lead to?
When offended the self-righteous will grab a hold of that offense, claim it, and nurture it. The offense will grow into bitterness and it becomes an inalienable “right” that they feel this way towards the one who offended them. In this climate of hurt and malicious feelings it is no wonder that forgiveness is far from their mind. This lack of forgiveness will always be a barrier to receiving and passing on blessing from God.
b. Critical Spirit
The pursuit of self-righteousness will also lead to a critical spirit.
A learned man said to D.L. Moody one day, “You made 38 grammatical errors in your sermon today.” Moody replied, “I am quite sure that I must have made even more than that. I have not had the educational advantages that you have had, but I am trying to use all that I have for the glory of God, are you?” (illustration quoted in “Barriers to Blessing” by Ed Wood)
I wonder how much the man got out of Moody’s sermon that day? The man who looks for only the mistakes of others finds little in life with which to enrich himself.
In their critical way, the self-righteous often judge men by what they have seen, when really and truly no one knows another’s heart. We throw self-righteous robes around us, we flash our critical eyes upon others and say, “Thank God, I’m not like these other men.” Yet, we do not know the things that are deep down in their hearts.
Why did Jesus first say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”? Do you really think that’s why his friends went through all that effort to bring him to Jesus? To simply hear that his “sins” are forgiven? I don’t want to minimize the importance of those very words being spoken. For indeed Jesus, does have the authority to speak them and there is a necessity for every single one of us to hear those words. But I believe that Jesus chose those words to be the first out of His mouth because He wanted to call out the self-righteous arrogance in that room – the self-righteous arrogance that would be appalled at the actions of those who dug through the roof and even more so at the way in which this teaching was interrupted; the self-righteous arrogance producing the judgement that this paralytic was responsible for his own condition by his sins – let alone the indignation that Jesus would could forgive them! The self-worshipers in that room were so wrapped up in their self-righteousness that they missed out on the blessing of God’s righteousness in that room that day. Instead of leaving blessed they left condemned.
c. looking for the line of least responsibility and culpability
When looking at their relationship to the world around them, the self-righteous are always looking for the line of least responsibility and culpability. That is, what is the minimum I need to do to keep up appearances and make it. You can apply this to any situation but it is terribly sad when so many Christians live like this. When an unmarried person asks a question like, “How far can I go and still be a virgin?”, or others ask “Have I prayed enough to look spiritual?”, “Should I tithe off my gross income or my net income?”. The Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ day became experts at drawing the line. The thing is, no matter where you draw the line, God sees right through to your heart. And your heart is what matters to God.
What roof is in your way?
My heart aches, when I think of how much of God’s blessing we miss out on because we draw a line of minimum responsibility and effort. When instead, we should be looking at the limitless gifts God has already given us – gifts equipping us to pass on His blessing to others in fulfilling the greatest commandments: Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind – and to love your neighbor as yourself.
In some ways, the actions of those men taking friend to Jesus is a prelude to the very action of Christ in bringing the lost to his Father. Imagine, God Himself, in Christ choosing to leave the comfort and limitless pleasure of His eternal throne to take on the humble mantle of humanity. Not only that but what was the roof Jesus broke through? Jesus dug through the roof of sin which kept a poor and crippled world from the presence of the Father.
In the ultimate pain of the cross and the ridicule of the very men and women he came to save – in the pain of being rejected by those who called Him master and friend, Jesus clawed his way through that roof and in doing so granted every single one of us access to the great blessings of the Father. Through Him we are blessed and Him through us is the opportunity to be a blessing to others.
This thought brings new meaning to the passage in Hebrews,
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)
What was the joy set before Him? I believe it was the same joy set before the men hanging over the edge of the tattered and broken roof, gazing upon their friend who they loved, receiving healing and forgiveness from the lips of the master.
What roof is in your way? Have you detected any self-worship in your life this morning? Have you become aware of the pursuit of comfort, the pursuit of pleasure, or the pursuit of self-righteousness in your life? I invite you to allow the Holy Spirit to help you break through that roof this morning.
As a church, if we are going to fulfill God’s purpose for us – then there are a few roofs that are going to be torn down along the way. There are times where God may ask us to do things that don’t seem to bring any benefit – but it is the doing that matters.
What roof is in your way this morning?