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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