Like a tur­tle sit­ting on a fen­ce­post, those of us who trust that God is mer­ci­ful — that he loves us dear­ly, for­gives us entire­ly, and frees us for­ev­er — didn’t get there on our own. Once upon a time, our abil­i­ty to trust God was mali­cious­ly crip­pled. Our paral­y­sis was the result of Satan’s first attack on the human race, a cun­ning attempt to demol­ish Eve’s con­fi­dence in the good­ness of God. Sad­ly for her and us, his plan worked far too well. Ever since women and men have suf­fered the par­a­lyz­ing effects of an unde­serv­ing or inad­e­quate view of God. 

We were ren­dered help­less with warped and dis­tort­ed souls as we lived in a con­tin­u­al state of con­fu­sion, anger, arro­gance, bro­ken­ness, lone­li­ness, and fear. Our only real hope was for some­one to car­ry us to Jesus in order for us to see the God that Jesus came to reveal. Only then could we rea­son­ably hope to accu­rate­ly under­stand the wild, pas­sion­ate, and uncon­di­tion­al love and mer­cy that is in God’s heart for you and me. 

Mark, one of Jesus’ dis­ci­ples, tells an incred­i­ble sto­ry about four men car­ry­ing a par­a­lyzed friend to Jesus (Mark 2:1 – 12). Like count­less oth­er sto­ries, it illus­trates the real­i­ty that God is the most win­some, mer­ci­ful, and car­ing of all beings. Mark offers very lit­tle infor­ma­tion about the four men; no name, no dia­logue between them. We don’t even know their rela­tion­ship with the par­a­lyzed man or what became of them after­ward. We’re not told how far they trav­eled or what it costs them, in time, mon­ey, or rep­u­ta­tion. Yet it’s appar­ent that no dis­tance was too far, no cost was too great, and no com­pli­ca­tion was too much. Despite the dif­fi­cul­ty and incon­ve­nience con­fronting them, they were deter­mined to get their friend to Jesus. And here’s a spoil­er alert: they were not dis­ap­point­ed with the outcome! 

Mean­while, I can’t help won­der­ing: What was it like to be this par­a­lyzed man? How did it feel to stare such a depress­ing future in the face? What was it like hav­ing to rely on oth­ers for every­thing? To nev­er be able to stand on his own and stretch. To nev­er be able to enjoy a change of scenery with­out trou­bling oth­ers. Did he ever feel any­thing besides help­less­ness, humil­i­a­tion, iso­la­tion, bore­dom, lone­li­ness, frus­tra­tion, despair?

How do you imag­ine he react­ed when his friends grabbed the four cor­ners of his cot and head­ed out the door with him? Do you sus­pect they told him their plans, or did they tell him it was a sur­prise? Either way, what do you sup­pose were his thoughts and emo­tions? Do you think he was dis­ap­point­ed or relieved when, at first, it appeared they would be forced to abort their mis­sion? Do you think he cau­tioned them about the like­ly legal con­se­quences when they began devis­ing their de-roof­ing strat­e­gy? Was he excit­ed, fright­ened, or embar­rassed when they start­ed low­er­ing him through the hole?

When he safe­ly land­ed at Jesus’ feet, it’s appar­ent that Jesus saw what only God could see; that the man’s paral­y­sis was more pro­found and more per­va­sive than it appeared to oth­ers to be. With­in his with­ered body was a dis­abled soul, par­a­lyzed by sin, shrunk­en from shame, des­per­ate­ly in need of mercy. 

How­ev­er, the dis­abled man at his feet wasn’t the only thing that Jesus saw. He also saw the spir­it­ed, sweaty faces of four des­per­ate men peer­ing down at him through a hole. Men whose faith was bold, earnest, insis­tent, and seem­ing­ly indif­fer­ent to social con­se­quences. He saw four men who would not be denied, whose bloody knuck­les offered proof that they would stop at noth­ing. Four filthy faces, crav­ing a mir­a­cle and pant­i­ng with antic­i­pa­tion, wide-eyed with hope. Four grown men, look­ing like starv­ing chil­dren, press­ing their noses against a gro­cery store win­dow, crav­ing a morsel of mer­cy. Appar­ent­ly, it wasn’t what Jesus heard that arrest­ed his heart. It was what Jesus saw.

Here were four adult men behav­ing like chil­dren, dar­ing to do what no adult with any sense of deco­rum would ever have done. They destroyed someone’s prop­er­ty, inter­rupt­ed Jesus while he talked, and aggra­vat­ed the peo­ple who were lis­ten­ing. Just like kids! 

Mean­while, their child­like trust in Jesus’ pow­er to heal their par­a­lyzed friend rav­ished Jesus’ ten­der heart. And why should we be sur­prised? After all, he is the one who said, Let the chil­dren come to me. Don’t stop them! For the King­dom of God belongs to those who are like these children…anyone who doesn’t receive the King­dom of God like a child will nev­er enter it” (Mark 10:14 – 15 NLT). 

It seems to me that Jesus’ defense of chil­dren begs the ques­tion: What is it about chil­dren that Jesus liked and val­ued so much?

Let’s start with humil­i­ty.

Ordi­nar­i­ly, chil­dren are embar­rassed by sta­tus and being the cen­ter of atten­tion. They haven’t yet learned to think in terms of pride and pres­tige. They have not yet learned to think of the impor­tance of themselves. 

I believe Jesus’ insis­tence that chil­dren have an advan­tage in fol­low­ing him hinges on the fact that chil­dren aren’t afraid or too proud to ask for mer­cy. They have no dif­fi­cul­ty admit­ting their lim­i­ta­tions and that they’re in over their heads. To chil­dren, a cry for mer­cy is a straight­for­ward expres­sion of their reliance on those who love them and are glad to take care of them. 

On the oth­er hand, adults are reluc­tant if not inca­pable to call for mer­cy . We hes­i­tate to con­cede a weak­ness or admit that we are in trou­ble. A call for mer­cy is like an admis­sion of weak­ness or, even worse, defeat. Call­ing for mer­cy is embar­rass­ing; it’s a humil­i­at­ing admis­sion of need and dec­la­ra­tion of weak­ness, and expe­ri­enc­ing that kind of dis­grace is the last thing we want. 

After my 85-year-old Dad died, I thought a lot about Jesus’ words regard­ing chil­dren. Dur­ing his last two years, Dad became more and more like a child. Even­tu­al­ly, he became near­ly help­less. Yet, in his weak­ened state he gave a price­less gift. By let­ting us help him, he also let us know him in ways that we nev­er had before. 

In his final months, Dad chal­lenged me to live in the present. Like a child, he want­ed me to be with him — here and now. He found it hard to under­stand or accept that I had oth­er things to do. His expres­sions of affec­tion and his will­ing­ness to receive it lost their fil­ters. He became more open and play­ful than ever before. When he passed away from this life, Dad had received the King­dom of God, just like a child.

One of the great­est priv­i­leges, high­est hon­ors, and often the most dif­fi­cult chal­lenges is bring­ing peo­ple to Jesus. Above all else, it is a mag­nif­i­cent act of mer­cy. Hope­ful­ly, you won’t have to dig through any roofs, but you may have to break down some walls — walls of igno­rance, mis­un­der­stand­ing, pride, prej­u­dices, and past hurts. You may have to use your head, adjust your sched­ule, mod­i­fy your bud­get, swal­low your pride, and cre­ative­ly use your gifts. In oth­er words, mer­cy is cost­ly. But like the four men in Mark’s sto­ry, you won’t be disappointed. 

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