…and in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)
The best thing that ever happened to my Bible study was that I decided to start thinking about it.
That might require a little explanation.
Scripture says people who hear the word but do not act on it are like a fellow looking in a mirror, then walking away and forgetting what he has seen (James 1:24).
That’s pretty close to the way I was for a long time. I would read a Bible passage and study it, but make no effort to take it with me when finished. One day I began memorizing Scripture in order to reflect on it while walking or driving or lying awake at night.
That began to make a great difference.
The Word of God does not yield its richest fruits to the casual, occasional visitor to the orchard, but only to those who come regularly and practice patience and diligence.
This, I suspect, is a major failure of many who teach and preach the Word, but who confine their inquiries to the study room. Then they wonder why others find more in passages than they.
“These words I command you today shall be in your heart. And you shall…talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
The best kind of Bible study may well take place while you are stopped at a traffic light, lying awake in the middle of the night thinking, sitting at the breakfast table with your newspaper or chatting with your spouse. Because a passage of God’s Word has been near the forefront of your mind (as opposed to filed away in the back somewhere), your subconscious works on it, your active mind begins to see parallels in everyday life, and something your wife said speaks to it.
It’s a wonderful thing.
Here’s an example.
As a young pastor–we’re talking 22 or 23 years old, pre-seminary with no college preparation as a preacher whatsoever–I was fascinated by Mark 2:1-12. (Having read my Bible regularly since the age of 8, I knew the story.But now, I was looking for Bible stories with preaching content and applications.)
That story had great possibilities, clearly.
The only problem was, I didn’t know what they were.
(May I suggest you pause and read the passage to familiarize yourself with it.)
After preaching on the passage a couple of times, I began noticing printed sermons on the same text. Oddly, no two were alike.
I drew two conclusions from this: a) the infinite variety God has programmed into us, as each reads a passage but interprets it from our unique position, individual personality, and particular viewpoint, and b) the richness of God’s Word, which contains insights, principles, and other treasures apparently without limit. There is no bottom to the depths in God’s Word.
In his unforgettable work, “Eat This Book,” Eugene Peterson draws an interesting insight from the Hebrew word “meditate,” found in Psalm 1.
That word is hagah, and literally means “to utter sounds, to speak.” Peterson thought of a dog of his which had dragged out of the woods where they lived a large bone, probably from a moose. Day after day, that little dog gnawed at that bone until he had consumed it. The sounds (grunting, growling, purring) the animal made as he “worked” the bone called to mind this word from the Hebrew. That, says Peterson, is how we are to approach Holy Scripture: working at it, meditating upon it, gnawing and chewing until we have consumed it.
It’s a fascinating concept.
What are the insights and lessons from the story of the four men of Capernaum who tear up a roof in order to get their paralyzed friend into the presence of Jesus?
1. My first attempt at preaching this story.
That first attempt at preaching this story is mercifully lost. We can assume it was fairly shallow and literal. I had not learned to look beneath the surface, to ask hard questions of the text, or to bring my imagination into play in order to see what was implied although unstated.
2. The next level of preaching this story.
For a number of years I preached this as a metaphor (allegory, maybe) for people who would bring their friends to Jesus. There are, in this story, FOUR REQUIREMENTS necessary for anyone interested on reaching others for the Master.
a) COMPASSION for the needy. The four men cared for their friend and went to a great deal of trouble to get him to Jesus.
b) CONFIDENCE in Jesus. Without complete faith in the Lord, they would not have made such a heroic effort.
c) COOPERATION with one another. No one of them could have carried their friend; it took all four.
d) COMMITMENT to get the job done. They dealt with the obstacles as they arose.
Over the years, I’ve seen numerous sermons on this text in print. Most seem to use a variation of this outline.
Anything wrong with it? Not as far as I can see.
But there’s more.
3. The third level of preaching this story.
In time, THREE PHILOSOPHIES of Kingdom People having to do with VALUES and PRIORITIES began to emerge from this text.
a) “People are more important than things.”
The four men tore open the roof to get their friend to Jesus. (I’m recalling hearing veteran China Missionary Sadie Crawley nearly a half century ago commenting, “God loves people and uses things; we love things and use people.”)
b) “The spiritual is more important than the physical.”
Even though the paralytic had been brought for healing, the Lord looks at him and pronounces, “Son, your sins be forgiven.” Jesus took care of his greatest need first (thus bestowing the most lasting gift) before seeing to the more obvious one.
c) “A demonstration is more important than a profession.”
For the benefit of the skeptics in the room, the Lord demonstrated His authority to forgive sins by raising the paralytic from his bed. We in the church speak of people making their “profession of faith.” While that is important, it’s inadequate by itself. “My little children, let us not love in word and in tongue (only), but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:18).
At times, I have wondered whether there is a fourth principle here, one involving the Lord Jesus Himself. Something like: “Jesus is more important than anything.” While that is clearly true, it’s such an obvious fact found in each of the three value statements that it can probably go without having a separate point.
4. To infinity and beyond!
Recently, when I was invited to address a church having a “Great Commission Weekend,” my mind went back to this text. First, I thought of the requirements of Great Commission People: compassion, confidence, cooperation, and commitment (point 2 above). If I used this text, that would have to be included in the message.
Then, the Mark 2 story began to show itself as a possible test for Great Commission Churches (that is, congregations that devote themselves to obeying Matthew 28:18-20 in taking the gospel to the world).
I came up with FIVE TESTS FOR A GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH based on this story.
1) Is Jesus your all? Only a full confidence in Him (His Word, His sinless life, His death and resurrection) will drive us to great lengths to reach others for Him.
2) Do you love people? The four men of Capernaum went to a great deal of trouble on their friend’s behalf: talking him into this really inconvenient excursion down the road (and perhaps talking his wife into it also), figuring how they would do it, the actual work involved in carrying him, then maneuvering the paralytic onto the rooftop, and finally the act of tearing into the roof and lowering him inside the house. Only a great love of their friend can account for such a sacrifice.
3) Will you work together with others? This means members cooperating with members, pastors with other pastors, churches with other churches, and entire denominations with other denominations. No one person or group of churches can do it all.
4) Are you willing to face the obstacles? Discouragement looms just ahead for anyone attempting to carry out the Lord’s command to reach the lost with the gospel. Three types of obstacles are found here: natural, human, and (possibly) demonic. The house itself posed a barrier, the crowd barred anyone from entering, and the scribes with their theological prejudices would have poured cold water on everything.
5) Are you willing to receive new things from the Lord? Everyone in the room learned that Jesus forgives sin, is eager to forgive sin, and puts forgiving sin above anything else. Anyone who devotes himself to obeying the Lord’s command to take the gospel to the world should gear up for insights and surprises; the Lord plants them on every page, delights in revealing them every day.
What other insights for preaching, serving, living can be found in this passage? God knows. Clearly some who read this will see additional lessons and gems. That’s wonderful, and precisely how the Spirit of God works. That’s why we channeled the spirit of Buzz Lightyear in calling this point “to infinity and beyond.”
5. Would you be interested in knowing our latest insight on this passage?
I scribbled it on the back of my notes while driving up the interstate just yesterday. It’s almost illegible.
“Someone has to come back tomorrow and fix the mess, repair the house, clean up everything.”
That will require a lot of thinking!
* * * * * * * * * * *
–There is the matter of the faith of the four which impressed the Lord so much. When He saw their faith, He blessed the paralytic.
–A good question to ask is, “Has someone been blessed by the Lord as a result of your faith?”