Bearers of the Mat: Helping the Hurting (Mark 2:1-12)

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And when he 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)

“I was paralyzed, not with a physical paralysis, but emotionally and spiritually.”

These were the opening words of a seminary professor during a chapel service I attended some years ago. He explained, “I seemed unable to grow and move freely in the life God planned for me. This sense of emotional and spiritual paralysis kept me defeated. I knew I needed help but didn’t know how or where to find it. I realize now that I am indebted to many people, some of whom I can’t even remember, for ministering to me in various ways.

They saw my need, were willing to take time to speak a word of encouragement to me, to pray with me, and to offer Biblical wisdom to guide me until I was emotionally and spiritually made whole. I can’t repay them but I can pattern their behavior–those who helped me to wholeness in Christ.”

The speaker explained that he had come from a dysfunctional home and a life of deep sin. Because of these problems in his early life, he did not know how to relate to other people properly, let alone how to relate to God and other Christians. He desperately wanted to experience the joy, beauty, and freedom he saw in the lives of some of his Christian friends, but didn’t know how.

He saw his own life reflected in Mark’s account of the healing of the paralyzed man. He felt that there was a parallel between the people who helped him find emotional and spiritual healing and those who helped bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus for physical healing. These friends he called, “the bearers of the mat.” Let’s turn to Mark 2:1-12, and consider the context in which this act of compassion is presented.

The Priority of Jesus’ Preaching the Word of God (Mark 2:1-2)

In the opening chapter of Mark’s gospel, we learn that Jesus, accompanied by His disciples, visited all the Jewish synagogues in the region of Galilee (Mark 1:38-39). The promised Messiah had finally arrived, and it became his practice first to preach the good news of the kingdom of God, then heal the sick in the crowd who had gathered around him.

Soon His influence and popularity with the common people became so great that He could not openly enter the cities because the multitudes thronged Him. In the opening verses of chapter two, Mark tells us that Jesus had returned to his home in Capernaum. The phrase, “it was noised abroad that he was in the house,” can be translated, “the people heard that he had come home.”

Whether He was visiting the surrounding towns or at home, preaching was a high priority. We read that when the crowds gathered to His house, “he preached the word unto them” (Mark 2:2). So many had gathered to hear Jesus that there was no room left in the house or even near the door. The place was packed.

The Participation of Concerned Friends (Mark 2:3)

This incidence is unique in the Gospel accounts of people who were healed by Jesus. Many times people in need were able to reach him themselves and ask for help. The woman who touched the hem of his garment was able to push through the press around him and received healing for a long-standing illness. The ten lepers, rejected by society and pitied and feared by friends, were able to intersect his pathway and appeal for cleansing. Even blind Bartimaeus was able to cry out loudly enough to attract Christ’s attention and receive his sight.

In other instances a concerned parent brought a sick or demon-possessed child to Christ’s attention for healing or deliverance. Once a concerned Centurion appealed to Christ to have pity on a faithful servant, confident if Jesus would only speak the word, the sickness would be rebuked.

In this instance Mark tells us about a group of concerned friends who were willing to help a man who was incapable of helping himself. We are told that four people, carrying a mat upon which a paralyzed man lay, were trying to bring him to Jesus.

The Perseverance of Concerned Friends (Mark 2:4-12a)

We are not told how far these friends had been carrying the mat. No doubt they were weary by the time they reached the door of the house where Jesus was. There they found new hindrances. But they persevered in their joint cooperation. Perhaps they were even able to inspire others standing about the door to assist them in getting the man and his mat up onto the roof.

I am sure this seemed a desperate measure, but sometimes desperate cases require desperate methods. They went so far as to open a large hole in the roof so they could lower the sick man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Mark notes that Christ responded with approval “when he saw their faith.”

The bearers of the mat were confident that if they could just get their needy friend to Jesus he would be able to heal him. They had a faith which was not to be defeated—a faith that persevered in spite of difficulties. It is interesting that Christ Jesus used this opportunity to comment on more than just their persevering faith.

He used it as a teaching opportunity to broaden the people’s understanding of Himself, His role as Messiah, and His power. Instead of saying as He did on many other occasions, “Thy faith hath made thee whole,” he raised a new issue by saying, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:9). What do you supposed passed through the minds of the people when, instead of immediately healing the man, Jesus pronounced the forgiveness of his sins?

Evidently Jesus discerned the root cause of the paralysis was sin. We know what some people thought. The Scribes thought Jesus had just spoken blasphemy by taking upon himself the prerogative of Deity, for only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:6-7). However, with Jesus’ Messianic credentials came the ability to discern the thoughts of men’s hearts (Isa. 11:2-3).

He therefore turned to the Scribes and asked, “Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat 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 tell you, get up, take your mat and go home” (Mark 2:9-11). The healing was instantaneous. He immediately arose, took up the mat, and pushed his way through the stunned onlookers.

The Need to Participate as a Bearer of the Mat!

I would encourage you to join the ranks of Christians who see another’s need and are willing to get involved helping someone who cannot help himself. If Christ has done great things for you, your confidence in Jesus’ ability to help others should galvanize you into action. There are people like the paralyzed man all around us.

No, not necessarily physically paralyzed, but paralyzed emotionally or spiritually—people who want help but don’t know how to move into the healing presence of the Lord. Unless we see them as they are, handicapped and needing our help rather than our criticism, we will not be motivated to become a “bearer of the mat.”

AN EXAMPLE OF THE NEED

Let me tell you about a man named Ross. He had been a Christian for several years and faithfully attended church. When the men of his church went to Promise Keepers, he eagerly went with them. He watched his friends and others rejoicing in the Lord, and finding new freedom in Jesus. He wished for a similar experience but was left unmoved. He had also been on an Emmaus Walk. Again, he saw people renewing their walk with God and he tried to do the same, but felt no change. He longed for a vibrant relationship with God but didn’t seem able to develop such a relationship.

For all practical purposes he was spiritually paralyzed. His Christian wife had been dragging a corner of his mat. And his preacher had taken hold of another corner. But their efforts alone didn’t seem to be enough to help Ross in developing his walk with the Lord. Where are the other Christians who, in faith, would take hold of a corner of the mat and help bring Ross into the healing presence of Jesus?

Sad to say, it is easier for many of us to dismiss people like Ross with a statement like, “If he really meant business with God, he wouldn’t be in the condition he is in,” rather than to reach out and take hold of a corner of their mat. Unfortunately some preaching has made many of us embrace the mistaken idea that the new birth and entire sanctification (or “being filled with the Spirit”) will automatically cure all emotional problems.

We are troubled when we see Christians struggling with emotional hang-ups and personality disorders. After a period of time, we tend to lose patience with Christians who behave in confusing and contradictory ways. We quote the verse, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Mat. 7:16), but fail to realize that it is also true that “by their roots you shall understand, and not judge them.”1

Have you ever met persons like Ross, who sincerely walked in all the light they had but struggled with spiritual or emotional handicaps? Through no choice of their own, they may have been scarred by child abuse or other tragic occurrences in life. Usually, these scars lie just under the surface layer of their lives. They try their best to conceal these problems with a protective mask. But problems like this can seriously hinder spiritual development, and need a special kind of understanding.

Mat bearers must appreciate that beyond crisis experiences God wants to help His people by the “renewing of their minds.” This is a lifelong process in which past patterns of thinking must be replaced by godly attitudes and reactions. How can we help such people?

STEPS TO MEET THE NEED

May I suggest that first, we need to become their friends and demonstrate compassionate love. Then, as God opens the door, we need to encourage them to acknowledge their areas of need. With God’s grace and with total honesty, they need to confront their problems (James 5:16). “Some people miss deep inner healing because they lack the courage to share deeply with another person.”2

Kindly and carefully, we need to help them accept their responsibility for their present attitudes and behavior. We must help them decide whether or not they really want to be healed. Some people prefer to hide behind their problems and use them to get sympathy from others, rather than sincerely seeking healing.

Further, we need to urge them to forgive everyone who is involved in their problems. “No inner healing occurs until there is deep forgiveness.”3 They must also forgive themselves for their past failures and sins. Unresolved guilt and self-loathing for sins of the past can surface in sarcasm, unreasonable demands, criticism, and low self-esteem.

Further, we need to urge them to begin memorizing Scriptures which promise God’s help and healing for their areas of need. Above all, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to show the person what their real problem is and then show us how to pray for them.

Becoming a bearer of the mat, by helping the emotionally wounded and spiritually handicapped among us, is never easy. It normally requires a lot of time listening to and praying with the needy person. But it also requires the participation and faith of many others who can see the need and then purposely offer words of encouragement and wise counsel. A lot of people working together can lighten the load for all.

The Praise God Receives When People Dare to Exercise Faith (Mark 2:12)

Mark concludes his account of the healing of the paralyzed man with the statement, “all were amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’” (Mark 2:12). The story is told of an old Jewish Rabbi who had a dream. In his dream he was given an opportunity to visit heaven and hell. As he entered the door to hell he was surprised. In his dream he saw a banquet hall lined with tables. In the middle of each table was a bowl filled with delicious food.

Each person had been given a spoon and the only way they were allowed access to the food was by use of their spoon. The spoon was long enough to reach the food, but too long to put in their own mouths. The people sat there weeping and wailing as they starved. The horror of the scene was so great the old Rabbi asked to leave. His next stop was heaven.

As he entered heaven he was surprised again. It was exactly the same setting. He was in a banquet hall. People were sitting around tables and in the middle of each table was a bowl filled with delicious food. Again, each person had a spoon and the only way they were allowed access to the food was by use of their spoon. As he stood there watching, he observed the banquet hall was filled with laughter, and he could feel the excitement of the people. They were celebrating the privilege of feeding each other.

Jesus wants His followers to serve one another willingly and wholeheartedly. Let’s become bearers of the mat!

 


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

1. David A. Seamands, Healing for Damaged Emotions (Victor Books, 1981), p. 13.
2. Ibid., p. 21.
3. Ibid, p. 22.

Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.