Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Through the Roof: Evangelism, Part 2
This is part 2 of a 2-part sermon series on this passage.
In part 1, I made the case that this story about 4 men bringing a paralyzed person to Jesus is in many ways a picture of evangelism.
When Jesus heals someone with a physical ailment or disease it’s often a picture of our spiritual condition. When Jesus heals the blind—it’s a picture of how we are all spiritually blind and can’t see God apart from his grace. When Jesus raises the dead—it’s a picture of how we are all spiritually dead apart from his life-giving mercy. And here, when Jesus heals a paralyzed man—it’s a picture of how we are all paralyzed and unable to come to God on our own. We need others to bring us to Jesus. In this sense, these 4 men are evangelists. They are bringing someone to Jesus.
Last week, I mentioned 3 reasons why we are reluctant to share our faith and tell non-Christians about Jesus.
Today, I want to address the cultural challenges to sharing the Christian gospel today.
What are the cultural challenges of sharing your faith? Let me list 3:
- 1. Our culture is becoming increasingly secular.
When I say ‘secular,’ I don’t mean atheistic. I mean it’s more difficult to believe in Christianity today.
For example, 500 years ago in Europe, in was almost impossible to NOT believe in God. The culture was highly Christian, highly religious, and everyone you knew shared a similar belief. It was pretty much impossible to imagine life apart from God. But today, in the West, it’s different. Today, there are many people who are content completely apart from God. There are people who don’t know any Christians. And if you are a Christian, you know people who don’t share your beliefs. For many people, this makes it more difficult to be a Christian.
- 2. There is little to no anxiety about sin or the afterlife.
For example, 50 years ago—the way to share the gospel was to ask 2 questions:
1) Have you come to a point in your life where if you were to die, you know for sure you are going to heaven?
2) What would you say if you were to stand before God and he asked, “Why should I let you into my heaven.”
People would say, Yeah I think I’ll go to heaven. Or I don’t know if I’m good enough. But now, people say, I don’t believe in heaven or your version of God. Further, there is no concept or understanding of sin—or being good enough. Not only do people today give different answers. They simply don’t agree with the questions.
- 3. Increasingly, people say, “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.”
When people say, “I’m spiritual” it means there are open to transcendence or some higher power. When they say “I’m not religious,” they mean that they don’t want to associate with any one religion or with the church.
Surprisingly Montana has one of the lowest percentages of people who identify with a church. Utah has the highest percentage of people who identify with a church—almost 70%! Montana ranks 40th!—with only about 37% of people who affiliate themselves with a church. In Bozeman specifically, Almost 70% of the Bozeman population doesn’t identify with any church.
In light of these cultural challenges, I want to show how this passage guides us. Specifically, it encourages us to: 1) Embody the gospel. 2) Trust God’s Power. 3) Speak to the Heart.
- 1. Embody the Gospel
In v.1-2 we are told that Jesus is preaching in a house to a packed-out crowd. There is no room inside the house or even outside of the house to hear Jesus.
v.3-4: Some men came, bringing to [Jesus] a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.
Notice, they show empathy and compassion for his paralyzed condition. They go to extraordinary measures to help bring healing to his hurts. They carry him. They lift him up on the roof. They dig through the roof (destroying it!)—they most likely will have to pay for it. This will cost them.
They bring him to Jesus by tangibly meeting his physical needs.
Too often, when we think of evangelism, we think of presenting someone with a set of propositions. Maybe try to argue them into the kingdom of God with a set of airtight logical statements.
Unfortunately, we reduce God to a set of ideas. God is the God of the incarnation. Yet we have “ex-carnated” him from our evangelism. We dis-embodied the gospel and reduced it to merely an intellectual message.
One of the reasons people say they are “spiritual and not religious” is because they don’t see any value in religion or the church.
For this reason, more than ever, it’s important that we minister not only to people’s minds, but to their whole person.
Effective evangelism must have a posture of hospitality. We need to be involved in the lives of non-Christians. Invest in friendships. Have them over for meals. Be present in times of hurt and tragedy.
I recently was talking with a non-Christian woman in her 60s in Bozeman. She shared with me: I’ve had negative experiences with Christians. I’m not interested in Christianity. But the other day, I was hiking up the M and there was a group of women hiking up the trail. I could tell by their conversation that they were Christians. I thought to myself, That would be nice to be part of a group like that—I wish I had that. Trinity Church has a woman’s hiking group—so I invited her to come.
She doesn’t want an argument—she wants a community. Friends to go hiking with. That is something the church can offer.
Where is God calling you to embody the gospel to non-Christians?
Our job is not just to tell people the gospel as a proposition, but to embody the gospel—meeting physical needs. So people can touch, taste, and see Christ in us and through us.
- 2. Trust God’s Power
Once the paralyzed man is lowered down through the roof we are surprised by what happens next:
v.5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I find this verse surprising! The verse says that when Jesus saw their faith he forgave the man’s sins. We might expect it to say, when he saw the paralyzed man’s faith, he forgave his sins. But it says, when he saw their faith—the faith of the 4 men. That’s significant!
There is a lesson here: These 4 men believe in the ability and power of Jesus to heal and transform. They act in faith by bringing the paralyzed man to Jesus.
We sometimes fail to have faith in the supernatural and miraculous power of Jesus to transform a non-Christians life. And so we don’t act. We don’t try to bring people to Jesus.
Last week, I mentioned a book on evangelism called, Stay Salt. It’s probably the most important book you can read on Evangelism today. The author, Rebecca Pippert emphasizes that we should always have faith in the power of God’s word when doing evangelism. She says,
When you have done incarnational evangelism. They know you care. They know you listen to them. You are finding out what their questions are. You have a relationship with them. At some point you need to say, “Your questions are really good. Have you ever read the Bible as an adult. What would you think about reading a story of Jesus—just one story from the Bible—just to find out what he’s like?” She continues: There’s a lot of criticism of the church. They are a lot of people who would never darken the door of the church. But [I’ve found] they are curious about Jesus. They say, “You’re right. I’ve never as an adult serious looked at who Jesus is. I’ll do it. I’ll do it once.” I tell them, think of it like a book club. But this is a book club to discover who Jesus is. What happens? With the combination of the power of the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to open eyes—Jesus comes alive. I’ve done this all over the world—in places more secular than America. And again and again, people got hooked. Jesus is irresistible.
(If you’re interested in learning how to do this—talk to Catherine. In the future, watch for training classes on this offered by Catherine.)
But the point is: You won’t share the gospel with people and you won’t ask people to read God’s Word if you don’t have faith in the power of God’s Word. To do effective evangelism, you have to believe that God and his Word really can transform people.
Then four men who bring the paralyzed man to Jesus have faith in Christ’s power.
- 3. Engage the Heart
v.5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now, when they lower the paralyzed man through the roof, we expect Jesus to heal him. But instead—Jesus forgives his sins.
There are two extremes when it comes to evangelism. One the one hand, there is the formula approach where Christians just march through a memorized presentation of the gospel. (2 Questions, etc). That might of worked 50 years ago, it’s not even an option today. The other extreme is friendship evangelism where you only focus on meeting mercy needs. People sometimes say, preach the gospel and sometimes use words. Meaning—just show people the love of Jesus by your actions—don’t talk about him. This extreme says, I’ll befriend people. They know I’m a Christian. If they’re curious, they’ll ask.
Jesus never uses a formulaic approach to evangelism. Ever interaction is different.
Yet he always speaks to the heart—to people’s spiritual condition.
In this story, Jesus speaks to the paralyzed man’s greatest need—greater than his physical condition. Jesus speaks to his heart.
We need to be willing to speak to the heart and talk to people about God and being right with him.
You might think, “But we live in a secular age. People don’t believe in God. Why are they going to care if God forgives them?” That might be true, but here’s what’s encouraging:
There is a famous Canadian philosopher by the name of Charles Taylor. He is a Christian. When it comes to living in our secular age, he says that everyone is “cross pressured.” What he means by that term is that Christians today feel pressured to NOT be a Christian. 500 years ago it was easy to be a Christian. But today because of the secular culture and because we know so many people who aren’t Christians, we have more doubts. The house of the Christian is haunted with doubts and unbeliever. We are more tempted today to NOT continue to believe in Christ. The prayer of today’s Christian is, I believe help my unbelief.
But here’s what’s encouraging. It’s not just the Christians who are cross-pressured. Non-Christians are also cross-pressured. And just as Christians as tempted to doubt, non-Christians are tempted with faith. The house of their life is haunted with transcendence. With enchantment. They have a sense that there is something more ultimate. They struggle with emptiness. And many are looking for an opportunity to believe.
You might not share the gospel by saying: Do you want to have your sins forgiven? But you might say, We all live for something. We all worship something. Career. Family. Money. Health. Something. All those things leave us empty—but God is the one thing you can live for who won’t leave you empty.
Sometimes non-Christians say, “I believe that that there might be a higher power.” You might say, “What if that higher power is a person. What if that person loves you will infinite energy and might?”
That person is Jesus.
In the rest of this passage. The religious leaders get mad at Jesus for forgiving this man’s sins. It’s blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?
Jesus responds, in v.9: Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?
And then Jesus proves he has authority to forgive sins by healing the man. The paralyzed man gets up, takes his mat, and walks out.
But Jesus’ question “Which is easier?” has a double-meaning. Of course, it’s easier to say, your sins are forgiven. Anyone can say that! Not everyone can heal.
And yet, this question is meant to make us consider the depth of God’s love.
Because what did it take for Jesus to forgive this man’s sins—and our sins? It took Jesus giving his life and experiencing the agony of the cross.
Which is easier? It was much easier for him to heal him physically. And much more difficult for him to heal him spiritually. And yet for him—because of his love—it was worth it.
This is the love God has for us. This is the love the emboldens us to share the gospel with others.