This episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast is sponsored by Lifeway, publisher of Christine Hoover’s new Bible study, Seek First the Kingdom: God’s Invitation to Life and Joy in the Book of Matthew. Learn more at lifeway.com/seekfirst.
David Platt delivered a message at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference in Indianapolis titled “Paralysis and Forgiveness.” Expounding on the story of the paralyzed man brought to Jesus on a mat by his friends (Mark 2:1–12), Platt drew out the central theme of the book and the parable—the primacy and power of Jesus’s Word.
Platt also highlighted the two urgent needs of the paralytic—physical and spiritual—and the attributes of Jesus by which he was able to minister to both. Platt also addressed four characteristics of the paralytic man’s four friends, which should be understood and mimicked by all believers. From the parable, he then exposited five expectations for believers in evangelism.
The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check audio or video before quoting.
Before we journey into this remarkable text (Mark 2:1–12), I want to invite you to journey with me into the heights of the Himalayas where, Lord-willing, I will be a month from now. Imagine landing via helicopter at around 12,000 feet and hiking out many miles over the course of the next week. And during that week, you come face-to-face with what I can only describe as a collision of urgent spiritual and physical need.
Urgent physical need: A study was done in these villages about 10 years ago, and researchers found that half the children were dying before their eighth birthday. I have four kids, and we’re in the process of adopting number five. Losing one of my kids is one of my greatest fears. I can’t imagine that being an expectation for half of these people. One mom had 14 children, and 2 made it to adulthood. They’re dying of things like diarrhea or simple infections that you and I can get an antibiotic for over-the-counter. Poverty is rampant. And one of the worst byproducts of that poverty is sex trafficking. Traffickers prey on families in these villages. A trafficker meets with a mom or dad, promises their daughter a better life if she will go with him into the city. And with the village conditions they live in, it doesn’t take a lot of convincing before they send her off. Young girls are taken into the city and put into brothels where they are broken and abused by numerous so-called “customers” a day. Others are taken to other countries. Thousands of girls are taken from these villages.
Urgent physical need accompanied by urgent spiritual need:These mountains are the birthplace of Buddhism and the hometown of Hinduism. Out of about 9 million people in the region, there may be a hundred followers of Jesus. Most people have never even heard of him. When you mention Jesus, people have a puzzled look on their faces as if you’re talking about somebody in a nearby village with a bizarre name.
This collision of need is evident in the individual faces of men, women, and children you see. You should just see the face of a man whose eye has fallen out because infection has overtaken his head. He’ll likely die soon, and he has never heard of Jesus. See the face of an eight-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, physically chained to a barn outside because the village leader said this son was a curse in his home. See the face of a young girl in a brothel motioning for you to come over to her because she thinks you want what so many other men want from her. And then see, not the faces, but the bodies of men, women, and children burning on funeral pyres as their ashes fall down into a river that their families hope will transport them to a better life in a new incarnation.
So I ask you, how do you respond to this collision of urgent spiritual and physical need? Do you only share the gospel? What if they’re starving? Do you do anything about that? What if they don’t have water or medicine? Do you do anything about the reality that this child is chained to a barn, that this girl is enslaved in that city and raped every day?
It’s one thing to ponder questions about evangelism and mercy, ministry, and justice, and the gospel in the halls of our conferences, in the confines of our classrooms, in the comforts of our homes behind our computer screens, or even behind our pulpits on Sunday mornings. But it’s a whole nother thing to consider these questions when you’re face-to-face with that starving family, when you’re looking into the eyes of that chained child, that trafficked girl, or watching that body burn right in front of you. And the reality is, the Himalayas are not the only place where this collision of need exists.
In the city where I live, metro Washington, D.C., and in the city community where you live, we are surrounded by physical and spiritual need, which makes Mark 2 a particularly applicable text for us. An amazing story that I think, because of its familiarity to most of us, may have lost its luster for many of us. I invite you to listen to it and just try to imagine it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it. The Bible says,
When he [Jesus] returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:1–12)
Oh, what an understatement! Get the picture. Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations in his Galilean ministry, is situated on the northern shore of that famous sea. A crowd is crammed into the house, overflowing, out the door. Inside, Jesus is preaching to eager listeners, including scribes, who are trying to figure out who this disease-healing, demon-delivering teacher is.
And suddenly, four men show up with a paralyzed man on a mat. They want to get in the house, but no one will let them. Just imagine, people at the door, looking back, making eye contact with the man on the mat, his friends around him, and then turning back without budging. So when pushing and prodding don’t work, the friends get resourceful and scrappy.
We can only imagine the conversation as the first says, “Why don’t we climb up on the roof?”
The second responds, “Lot of good that will do, genius. Jesus is inside, not outside.”
To which the first replies, “Yeah, I know that, bro. Let’s just take the roof off.”
To which the third says, “You can’t remove a roof.”
And the first says, “Why not?”
They look at each other and finally the fourth says, “I don’t know a better option. We have to get our friend to Jesus. That’s the only way. So let’s do it.”
They climb up on the roof, a common place to sit or stand or lie down, to sleep on a cool night in a Palestinian home, almost like you might picture a deck. It’s sturdy enough to walk on. So imagine you’re inside and you hear footsteps above as you’re listening to Jesus in front of you. All of a sudden, you hear an odd noise and dirt starts to fall on your head. First, it’s a little, then it’s a lot. And it’s not just falling on you, it’s falling on people all around you. Jesus himself is dodging it. Have you ever been distracted in preaching? This is more than a baby crying. This is the roof coming down on your head. You can only imagine the owner of the house screaming, “What are you guys doing to my roof?” We don’t know for sure whose house it was, I’m pretty sure that if it was Peter’s mother-in-law, she was about to have another headache she would need to be healed of. Suddenly the sun starts to peek through. By now, Jesus, despite his authoritative teaching, has lost the crowd’s attention. More dirt falls. More tiles are removed until a massive hole is formed.
Mark’s description in the original language suggests a major demolition job here. The text literally says they unroofed the roof. Once the hole is established, there’s a long pause. Everybody waits for what will happen next. And that’s when a mat, likely tied with ropes in its corners, is slowly lowered down. And on it, lies a paralyzed man, now nestled in front of Jesus’ feet. No one speaks a word inside or outside. Did you notice how Mark doesn’t record a single word spoken even by the friends? I can just imagine Jesus looking down at the man, then up at his friends. What expression do you imagine on their faces? Are they nervous, anxious, smiling? I can safely assume they were sweating as they catch their breath and wait to see what Jesus will do. And we don’t know exactly what Jesus saw on those friends’ faces, but we do know that whatever Jesus saw was the face of faith. And Jesus said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
What Jesus said is a bit odd when you think about it because the man didn’t even ask for that. This is what we know. We don’t have all the details. We don’t know for sure if anyone else said anything. We do know that it was a common belief in that day that physical suffering was attributable to personal sin. But we don’t know if this man’s paralysis was tied to specific sin in his life or if it was something he was born with. All we know is that Jesus makes a pronouncement that shocks the crowds. This man has sinned, and Jesus has authority to forgive him, which leads the scribes to wonder in their hearts, “The penalty for blasphemy is death, and this teacher deserves it.”
And while the text doesn’t tell us they said anything out loud, Jesus saw that in their hearts they were questioning. So he says, “Which is easier, to forgive sins or to heal paralysis?” And after he paused, he says, “I’ll show you that I have authority to forgive sins.” Then he turns to the paralytic and says, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”
And picture it: to the amazement of the crowd crammed into that home, to the disgust of scribes sitting on the floor, and to the delight, the pure delight of four friends peering down through an unroofed roof, the man stood. He stood, immediately picked up his bed, and ran out of the room. The crowds moved for him this time.
Can you imagine those friends running down off the roof, jumping up and down with their friend, chest-bumping, shouting as they raced home with a demolished house in their wake? And that house was full of people, who now, for the first time, speak in the story saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
Is this not an awesome story? So what does it teach us, specifically about evangelism? I invite you to consider this story with me through the following lenses: one central theme, two urgent needs, three characteristics of Jesus, four faithful friends, and that all leads to five exhortations in evangelism. I’m not expecting you to have gotten all that.
We’ll go one at a time: one, two, three, four, five. We’ll start with one.
One Central Theme: The Primacy and Power of Jesus’s Word
One central theme in this story, and really, in this section of Mark’s Gospel, and that theme is the primacy and power of Jesus’ word. The primacy and power of Jesus’s word. We have seen and heard this at numerous points over the last two days, and we see it again here in our text today.
Back in Mark 1:14, the Bible says, “After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God, saying, ‘The time was fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.’” Then in Mark 1:21, “They went into Capernaum. And immediately, on the Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching for he taught them as one who had authority and not as the scribes.”
Later, in the second half of Mark 1:27, “After healing a man with an unclean spirit, the crowds asked, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him.” In Mark 1:36–37, The crowds are looking for Jesus. And Mark 1:38 says, “He said to them, ‘Let us go into the towns that I may preach there also for that is why I came out.’” Then you have the story we just read. Then right after our passage, in Mark 2:13 we see, “Jesus went out again beside the sea and all the crowd was coming to him and he was teaching them.”
We find a clear emphasis in Mark on Jesus’s preaching and teaching. So it’s no surprise to hear at the start of our text in verse 2, “Many were gathered together. There was no more room in the house, not even at the door, and he was preaching the word to them.”
As the story unfolds, it’s by the word of Jesus that this man’s sins are forgiven. It’s by the word of Jesus that this man’s paralysis is healed. So we see one central theme in the story, the primacy and power of Jesus’ word, which leads us to the two urgent needs.
Two Urgent Needs
First, the man’s physical need was evident. He was paralyzed. We obviously don’t know how severe his paralysis was. It’s bad enough to be confined to a portable bed. We don’t know whether he could move any of his muscles, if motor areas of his brain were not functioning, if his spine, at some point, had snapped. But his physical need was evident to all and affected all of his life.
His ultimate need was not healing from God but holiness before God.
Yet second and, particularly significant, this man’s spiritual need was ultimate. More important than even his physical paralysis was his spiritual malice. Again, we don’t know if his suffering was directly due to any particular sin in his life. It’s Biblically possible that it was or wasn’t. But regardless, we know this: this man was a sinner which meant that his ultimate need was not healing from God but holiness before God. And this is the ultimate need in all of our lives. Our ultimate need is never physical. Our ultimate need is always spiritual.
Our ultimate need is never physical. Our ultimate need is always spiritual.
In fact, all of our physical suffering, ultimately goes back to a spiritual source. When sin entered the world, so did suffering and pain of all sorts. Every headache we have, every body-ache we feel, every form of cancer, every type of tumor testifies to the reality that this world is not as it should be.
Our ultimate problem is that we are separated from God by sin in a world that is full of suffering. So our ultimate need is not to be rid of our maladies but to be reconciled to our Maker.
Our ultimate need is not to be rid of our maladies but to be reconciled to our Maker.
Three Characteristics of Jesus
This leads to three characteristics of Jesus. This is heightened by the first 14 times in the book of Mark when Jesus will refer to himself as the Son of Man, a title that will be associated with Jesus’ suffering, humiliation, and death, but it’s more than that. Remember the prophecy in Daniel 7:13–14,
Behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
Now, the Son of man is not merely a humble reference to Jesus’s humanity. It is a powerful statement of Jesus’s authority. And his authority is all over this text.
First, Jesus has authority to read our hearts. As soon as Jesus pronounces forgiveness of the paralytic’s sins, he looks over at the scribes and he sees their questioning, accusing hearts. They don’t have to say a word, for Jesus knows what is in them in the same way that he knows what is in every one of our hearts right now. All of our hidden motives, all of our secret thoughts, all of the sin we don’t want anybody else to know about, all across this room, not one of us escapes his gaze, and nothing in our lives is hidden from his eyes.
Second, Jesus has authority to heal our sicknesses. We almost take this for granted when we see this in the Gospels, and we’ve seen this in different places, even last night. May we never cease to be amazed and awed and absolutely encouraged by the reality that when Jesus speaks, paralysis disappears. Jesus speaks and disease is gone. Jesus speaks and demons run. Jesus speaks and death itself obeys. Jesus has authority to heal our sicknesses. None of those things are sovereign. Disease is not sovereign. Demons are not sovereign. Death is not sovereign. Jesus is sovereign. And then as if that isn’t good enough news, it gets better.
Disease is not sovereign. Demons are not sovereign. Death is not sovereign. Jesus is sovereign.
Third, this text tells us that Jesus has authority to forgive our sins. This is the greatest news of all. We said earlier that our ultimate need is not physical but spiritual because all of our physical suffering ultimately goes back to a spiritual source, sin. We said our ultimate problem is that we are separated from God by sin in a world that is full of suffering. So, our ultimate need is not to be rid of our maladies, but to be reconciled to our Maker. And this is what Jesus has come to do. If sin is ultimately the root of all our suffering, then what we need most is for someone to solve that problem.
We need someone with power, not just over disease and demons; we need someone with power over sin and death. And Mark 2 makes clear, this someone has come. The scribes were right, only God can forgive sins. Yet what they failed to see was that God, in the flesh, was standing right in front of their eyes. And this is the good news of the Bible, the greatest news in all the world. God has not left sinners alone in a world of sin and suffering. God himself has come to us. He has lived the life we could not live, a life of perfect, sinless obedience to the Father. And then, though he had no sin for which to die, he chose to die on a cross for our sins as our substitute. Jesus died for our sins.
And then the good news keeps getting better because Jesus didn’t stay dead for long. Jesus rose from the grave in victory over sin and death. And now, he offers reconciliation to God for anyone, anywhere who repents and believes in him. This is the gospel.
Yet sadly, it is not the gospel that is being preached in many places around the world. As I travel around the world, there are so many places where a false gospel is being proclaimed that if you believe in Jesus, you will be healed of all your diseases now. That if you trust in Jesus, you’ll be free of your sicknesses today. It is not the gospel, because the gospel is much, much better news than that. The gospel is not going to Africa and saying, “Trust in Jesus, and your HIV/AIDS will be gone.” The gospel is not going to America and saying, “Trust in Jesus and your cancer will be gone.” The gospel is going anywhere and everywhere in the world and saying, “Trust in Jesus, and your sins will be gone.”
The gospel is going anywhere and everywhere in the world and saying, “Trust in Jesus, and your sins will be gone.”
When that happens, then the root of suffering is severed. When our sins are gone, we are reconciled to God with the very righteousness of Christ. Which means that we can know—no matter what happens in this life, with bodies that are all wasting away—that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate you and me from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
For all who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, you can know cancer will not have the last word. Tumors will not have the last word. Alzheimer’s will not have the last word. Parkinson’s will not have the last word. Pain will not have the last word. Heart attacks, hospital rooms, and hospice care will not have the last word. Death itself will not have the last word. Because death has been defeated by the Son of man.
The good news of the Kingdom is not that Jesus will heal you of all your sicknesses now. The good news of the Kingdom is that Jesus will forgive you of all of your sins forever.
His name is Jesus. And he will have the last word. The good news of the Kingdom is not that Jesus will heal you of all your sicknesses now. The good news of the Kingdom is that Jesus will forgive you of all of your sins forever. And forgiveness is God’s greatest gift because it meets our greatest need. Jesus has authority to forgive our sins.
Forgiveness is God’s greatest gift because it meets our greatest need.
Four Faithful Friends
This leads us to four faithful friends. And by faithful, I mean full of faith. This entire story unfolds because Jesus sees their faith. In Mark 2:5, “When he saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Faith in Jesus unlocks forgiveness from Jesus. And notice, it wasn’t just this man’s faith on the mat, there’s actually question about whose faith it is in the text. The only thing we know is that it was plural, more than one person’s faith led to this proclamation of forgiveness in this scene. So what was it about their faith? I see at least four characteristics.
Faith in Jesus unlocks forgiveness from Jesus.
First, their faith was confident.These men believed Jesus could help their friend. There’s no way they would have gone to this extreme if they didn’t. They really believed. “If we can just get him in front of Jesus, something amazing will happen.”
Second, their faith was compassionate. They really loved him, didn’t they? You don’t go to these measures for someone you don’t care for. Imagine this man lying there on his mat while the crowds are running to the home where Jesus is teaching. Were it not for the compassion of four faithful friends, he’d have stayed there on that mat and only heard stories of what Jesus had said. Because of their compassion, he found himself at Jesus’ feet.
Third, their faith was creative. They were creative, resourceful, scrappy, and even a bit reckless. No obstacle could stand in their way, no crowd and no roof. They demolished a house to get their friend to Jesus.
Fourth, their faith was contagious. Again, Mark tells us very little about this man lying on the mat. But I try to imagine myself on that mat. I’m lying there when word gets around that Jesus is teaching in the house up the way, and everybody starts running, and I’m stuck until four friends say, “We’re going to take you to Jesus because we believe he can help you.” I think their faith starts to encourage my own. Maybe he can help me. Maybe he will.
Then when I’m lying on that mat outside the house, the crowds are looking at me but won’t let me in, I think I’d start to get discouraged. But then I look over at my friends talking, pointing up to the roof, hatching a plan. When they come back and tell me their crazy idea, I think my faith would be encouraged. When I’m lying there on the roof, watching them dig out a hole in it, strap ropes to my mat and lower me down, I’m guessing I’m looking up into their eyes, seeing their determined faces and their faith is bolstering my own with hopeful anticipation. Then the moment my mat settles on that floor, I look up into the face of Jesus with the expectant faith-filled faces of my friends in the background. I think my heart would be filled with faith in that moment. Their faith was contagious. Their faith affected Jesus and their faith affected this man in need.
Five Expectations in Evangelism
And so we come to five expectations in evangelism that I would offer you based upon this story in God’s Word.
First, make the proclamation of Jesus’s word primary in a world of spiritual need. See the primacy and the power of Jesus’ word and proclaim it Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. We get to do this. We get to make eye-contact, specifically with unbelievers in the worship gathering. What a mercy that God brings unbelievers to us. I stand out in the lobby in between our services in metro Washington. I have so many conversations with unbelievers who have come. I think about Jesus calling us to fish for men. I don’t have to go out and find fish on Sundays. It’s like they’re jumping into the boat.
So make eye contact with unbelievers every week and proclaim the gospel of God, but not just in the church, in the world, wherever we go. You look through Mark, and not just Mark, but the Gospels, the book of Acts, and yes, Jesus sent the disciples to speak the word in synagogues, but most of their word ministry was done on streets and in houses. Is that true of us?
Being at this conference has brought back memories to me of my early years in faith including the first time I can remember sharing the gospel. I hadn’t thought about this in a long time until I got here. When I was in middle school, a student minister invited me and a buddy to meet him in an arcade one day. We thought it sounded great, so we went. He showed up with a video camera and he said we were going to interview people and ask them about their faith. And my buddy said, “Do we still get to play video games?” And he said, “Sure.” So we went up to some other teenagers, our student minister started asking questions from behind the camera as my buddy and I watched and listened. And when the questions were finished, the student minister put the camera down and said, “Now David would like to share with you about his faith in Jesus.” All of a sudden, I didn’t have a choice but to proclaim the Word.
In the days to come, that student minister nurtured a boldness in my buddy and me for evangelism. We would go out to the train station and share the gospel with cab drivers who were waiting to pick up people. We would share the Gospel through Bible studies in our homes and rallies at our schools. I remember the time I broke my arm playing baseball. I had a big black cast on it all the way up my arm. So I had my older brother write on the cast, “Are you sure?” in big white letters. People would come to me and say, “Am I sure of what?” And I would say, “Are you sure that you will go to heaven when you die?” And I’d share the gospel with them.
That continued through all kinds of creative things in college, on a state university campus, and in seminary. My first semester in seminary in New Orleans, I was in a personal evangelism class where we were assigned a local church and required to participate with that church in evangelism over the course of the semester. My team got the last church left on the list, Vieux Carre Baptist Church, right in the heart of the French Quarter. We met with the pastor. He took us on a tour of the quarter where we stopped in Jackson Square and he said, “You’re on your own from here.” My team looked around at all these tables with fortune tellers and tarot card readers and we thought, “Why don’t we get in on the action?” So we went and bought a table, put a cloth on top of it, some candles. We made a sign that said, “We’ll tell your future for free.” We set up right next to the voodoo queen of New Orleans, and sat down with a couple of chairs across the table from us. They would sit down and ask, “You’ll tell my future for free?” And we’d say, “Absolutely, guaranteed.” We were tempted to ask them to put out their hands, but we didn’t. We just asked them some questions to establish the fact that they had sin in their life. And then we tell them, “Your future doesn’t look very good.” And we’d tell them how it could change.
I share all this because I’ve been pretty convicted the last couple of days in my own life that over years of ministry and the busyness of doing a lot of things in the church, I fear I’ve lost that level of boldness and creativity and commitment of my time to ministry of the word in the world. I spend hours preparing for the ministry of the word on Sundays, which is important, but I spend relative minutes doing the ministry of the word on the streets and in houses all week long. And that needs to change in my life. What about you? Let’s make the proclamation of the word primary in our ministries and in our lives in a world of urgent spiritual need.
Second, make the power of Jesus’ love evident in a world of physical need. I trust it’s clear from all the messages these days that the proclamation of Jesus’s word is primary in the mission of the church. But doesn’t this text compel us to open our eyes to opportunities we have in this world to show the power of Jesus’ love amidst people’s physical need? The mission of the church is to make disciples of the nations.
The more we give ourselves to this mission, the more we will realize that the nations are hurting. Over a billion men, and women, and children are extremely poor, ultra poor. Millions of refugees are in need of a home and hope. Millions of children are in need of food and medicine. Untold numbers and names are trafficked and enslaved right now just like my younger daughter.
As we work primarily to keep people from eternal suffering, let’s also work diligently to care for people amidst earthly suffering.
As we work primarily to keep people from eternal suffering, let’s also work diligently to care for people amidst earthly suffering. Let’s see the man, the woman, the child on the mat and refuse to turn our eyes away, knowing that these physical needs are far from us and near to us.
If you were to listen to a podcast from our church, you would likely hear loud, pretty high-pitched amens during the sermon from a girl named Marisa. Marisa has cerebral palsy and spends her life in a wheelchair. Every Sunday, she wheels that motorized chair to the middle aisle right in front of me. Before she came to our church, she was used to being put in a corner by herself at churches who had not thought through how to care for children or adults with special needs. But this time, she found a family of brothers and sisters who welcomed her. And as they cared for her special needs, they brought her to the One who can meet her greatest need. She was baptized not long ago. And as I studied this text, I couldn’t help but to think about her.
Let’s make the power of Jesus’ love evident in a world of physical need.
Third, persevere in personal evangelism that is full of faith. Persevere in faith that is confident in the power of the gospel to save. We talk much of the challenges of evangelism in our age, in our culture, and they are indeed many. But based on this text, and particularly the picture of these faithful friends, I want to exhort us to be full of faith that when we bring Jesus and the lost together, he will show his power to save.
We talk about these challenges, yet we will not prove faithful if we talk more about how hard the ground is than we talk about how great the gospel is. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, and Jesus will show his power when we share his Word. Let’s persevere in confident, compassionate, loving, creative faith.
We will not prove faithful if we talk more about how hard the ground is than we talk about how great the gospel is.
We strategize and plan for so many things. We strategize and plan for worship services in the church. What’s the order going to be? We’re strategizing for programming in the church. We strategize and plan whiteboard, and do all these things. So how are you strategizing and planning for personal evangelism in your life, in your family, in your church? And as we strategize and plan, let’s be bold, even a bit reckless. I’m not saying we need to demolish houses. But the weapons of our warfare do have power to destroy strongholds. So let’s persevere in confident compassion, creative, contagious faith that believes God can and will save people by this gospel even when they don’t yet believe.
I think about my mother-in-law. I first met her when I started dating my wife, Heather, 25 years ago. Heather’s mom was not a believer. She really had no interest in talking about Jesus. Heather and I began praying together for her. We would share the gospel with her over and over and over again. We wrote letters. We tried to be creative, seemingly, to no avail. Her heart was just hard. Then one day, we were on vacation with Heather’s family, and her mom got up in the morning to read the Bible. Heather asked, “Mom, what are you doing?” And her mom shared, “I’ve been waiting to tell you, but I recently read in a book a presentation of the gospel, and it made sense.” She said, “I get it. Now, I want to read the Bible.”
She was born again. Everything in her life changed. She’s using the Word every day, praying, sharing the gospel, and joined the church. The fruit of new birth was evident in her new life. I had the privilege of baptizing her. And about a month later, she unexpectedly died of a brain aneurysm. Quite honestly, it was hard to cry at the funeral because there was such joy in our hearts.
I just shared that because I’m guessing across this room, there are many of you who have family members, parents, children, siblings, spouses, or close friends, who you share the gospel with and nothing has happened. I just want to encourage you to keep pressing in full of faith. Keep sowing gospel seeds. Keep praying pleading prayers. Persevere in personal evangelism that is full of faith.
Fourth, persevere in global missions that is focused on the unreached. I should have left more time here, but let me sum it up. Jesus is the Son of Man. To him belongs all authority in heaven and on earth that all peoples, nations, and languages should worship him. There are about 6,000 to 7,000 peoples, nations, languages that are still unreached by the gospel, not yet reached by the good news of his forgiveness.
Over 2 billion individual men, women and children just like us, just like our kids, who are being born and living and dying and going to hell without ever even hearing how they could go to heaven. Many of them born into an earthly hell of physical suffering, only to then move on to an eternal hell of everlasting, never-ending suffering, while many here have the privilege of hearing the words of Jesus, while we sit here in a land of Bible-saturated resources, where we can crowd into conferences to listen to Jesus.
Who is going to turn around, make eye contact with those who cannot hear his name? They do not have his Word, they don’t know a Christian, and no Christian is going to them. So what Christian is going to go to them? What church, what community of faithful friends is going to stop just listening to more and more and more for themselves?
What Christian is going to go, what church is going to send, what pastor is going to lead his local church for the spread of God’s global glory? Who’s going to rise up with confident faith that God has power to save Somalis, and God has power to save Malays, that God has power to save the Hui in China and the Hazara in Afghanistan, the Berber in Morocco, and the Baloch in Pakistan, the Pashu in the Punjabi, the Tibetans, and the Turks, 80 million people in Turkey—80 million, about 6,000 believers. There are more believers at this conference than there are among 80 million people in Turkey.
Let’s go to them. With compassionate conviction, let’s grab the four corners of this proverbial mat, and with creativity and contagious faith, let’s marshal our resources and commit our resolve to doing whatever it takes to bring them to Jesus. May the nations see in you and me and the members of our churches life-transforming, death-defying faith in Jesus on their behalf.
I’ve prayed that God might even use his Word by his Spirit today, right now to call out some from this room to go to the unreached. And I pray that God might open the eyes of every Christian and every pastor in this room to the part that he’s calling every one of us to play in the spread of his forgiveness to those who have never even heard his name.
Finally, never stop rejoicing in Jesus’ forgiveness of sin, and always keep hoping in Jesus’ victory over suffering. Praise God every day we have been forgiven of our sin. And praise God every time someone else is forgiven of their sin. Heaven rejoices when a sinner repents and God forgives. Just imagine the rejoicing that is happening in heaven right now over sinners all over the world who, at this moment, are repenting and receiving forgiveness. May it be non-stop rejoicing in heaven through our lives. Never stop rejoicing in Jesus’s forgiveness of sin and always keep hoping in Jesus’s victory over suffering.
Many of you know Joni Eareckson Tada, our sister in Christ, herself a quadriplegic who has recently been hospitalized. Latest update is that they had ruled out radiation but that she’s still in pain and having difficulty breathing. When I heard this latest news, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from her. I thought it would be appropriate to share as I close our time the story of a paralytic who stood to the glory of God. Joni writes,
I hope in some way I can take my wheelchair to heaven. With my new glorified body I will stand up on resurrected legs, and I will be next to the Lord Jesus. And I will feel those nail prints in his hands, and I will say, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ He will know I mean it, because he will recognize me from the inner sanctum of sharing in the fellowship of his sufferings. He will see that I was one who identified with him in the sharing of his sufferings, so my gratitude will not be hollow. And then I will say, ‘Lord Jesus, do you see that wheelchair over there? Well, you were right. When you put me in it, it was a lot of trouble. But the weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on you. And the harder I leaned on you, the stronger I discovered you to be. I do not think I would ever have known the glory of your grace were it not for the weakness of that wheelchair. So thank you, Lord Jesus, for that. Now, if you like, you can send that thing off to hell.
Indeed, one day, paralysis will be no more. One day, pain will be no more. One day, starvation and trafficking will be no more. And one day, suffering and death itself will be no more, for Jesus, the forgiver of our sins, is going to return, and he is going to raise our bodies to be like his body. Then we will rejoice and rest forever in his presence. So, brothers and sisters, may you and I be found faithful in evangelism from this day until that.