Friday, April 19, 2013

"Drop the ropes!"

"Faith." Religious people, as well as genuine Christians, talk about it all the time, just as unbelievers and atheists revile it as "superstition" or "self-delusion." But if you're a Christian, here's an interesting question: is your faith in God a matter of belief,  or is it something that can actually be seen

At the outset, let's clarify our terms. Every real Christian, of course, has a measure of faith, if he or she has been born again according to John 3:3-7. Faith in God's grace is the prerequisite for being a Christian: not church membership, not baptism, not family heritage, not even "good deeds."  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2: 8, 9).  That's what we call "saving faith," the very starting point of the Christian life; that's when we come to Christ on a personal basis for the first time. Some would say that's when we meet Christ, and that's a good way of putting it. That's what John 1:12 refers to as receiving Christ: not just an intellectual assent, not having a priest put a wafer on your tongue, not "joining the church," but literally receiving Jesus Christ into your life by an act of the will.  That's the faith that saves, and even a child can have it.

But after that transaction has taken place, there's another kind of faith: faith to believe God's words, and God's propositional revelation about Himself, and God's promises. "Saving faith" gets you into Heaven; but this kind of faith gets you through the days, and the decisions, and the disasters, and through all the rest of your earthly life. And every Christian has a different amount of faith: some very little, some very much.

There are many definitions of this kind of faith, the best-known being in Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  But if you're an unbeliever, or if you haven't read the Bible very much, that definition might not mean much to you.  For the moment, try this: faith is simply the willingness to believe that God will do exactly what He promises to do, and what He has said about Himself.  It's believing God, just as you'd believe a trusted friend who made you a promise.  The only difference is that your friend might have an accident, and not be able to keep the promise; God always keeps His promises - - - whether they're glorious, or terrifying.

Jesus is teaching in a large private home in Capernaum.  It's early in His ministry, but He's already become well known as a Teacher and Healer.  He sits in the largest room of the house, surrounded by a crowd of people from all the neighboring cities; it's "standing room only."  The people are fascinated by Him, just as they're fascinated today.  But there's a small group of men, maybe no more than three or four, who are understandably frustrated.

They have a friend who's hopelessly paralyzed, and they've carried him, on a sort of stretcher, to see Jesus, in hopes that Jesus will heal him.  They've heard the stories of Jesus healing the blind, and the leprous, and the crippled .... and they believe the stories.  They have absolute faith and confidence that Jesus can heal their friend. But they have a problem: the crowd is so big, that they can't get anywhere near Jesus!

But they're determined.  They hit upon an ingenious solution.  In those days, in that place, houses had flat roofs, which were sometimes used as areas of relaxation or observation.  Usually, these roofs were made of tiles, not the shingles of today.  So, the men carried their sick friend up the outside staircase to the roof, above the room where Jesus was teaching ....  and began to remove the tiles, one by one, until they had created a man-sized hole directly above Jesus. 

As the crowd took notice of this, and began to watch the ceiling open up, Jesus saw it, too.  And, once the hole was big enough, the men attached their friend's stretcher or cot to ropes, and began lowering it down to the floor:

And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them. And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee (Luke 5:17-20).

Physical disease, in the Bible, is a picture of sin; and, very often, physical healing and forgiveness of sins went together.  In this case, Jesus' words, "Thy sins are forgiven thee," also implied that he would be physically healed.

But look at the passage again, and ask yourself a question:  when the paralyzed man had been lowered to the floor, and Jesus was watching the man's friends, it says "he saw their faith."  How?  What did Jesus see, that indicated such faith?  Was it just their great effort in making a way around the crowd, or was it something else?

The Bible doesn't explain, but I once heard a very wise preacher who probably had the answer.  Jesus watched the men carefully lowering their friend to be healed .... and then they dropped the ropes! 

They let go of the ropes because they knew Jesus would heal the man; they had complete faith that He wouldn't refuse, or fail.  So, they didn't even hold on, in case they had to pull him back up again.  They knew that once he got to Jesus, he'd be healed, stand up, and walk out by himself.  That's faith: and that's what Jesus saw.  And their faith was rewarded; the man was healed.

If you're a born again Christian, you have plenty of needs in your life.  There are things that you know only God can do for you ... such as showing you His will for your life, or helping you to make an important decision, or perhaps something as practical as choosing a mate, finding a job, or deciding where to live.  Maybe you have a physical or mental infirmity that requires His intervention.  You pray, and you ask His help .... but what sort of faith do you have?  Is it the kind that leads you to pray, but without any real expectation that He'll answer?  Or is it the kind of faith that really and truly puts the situation in God's hands, and forsakes your own "wisdom" and half-baked solutions?

It has been truly said that God won't do for a man what the man can do for himself.  If you need a job, God might not just drop it into your lap; yes, you have to pray, but then you have to do what you can to find it.  If you're sick, you need to pray about it; but God doesn't usually send a team of doctors to your front door.  You and I have to do our part.  But when faith is called for (and it's always called for, in a Christian's life), we need to be willing and able to put it in God's hands, and expect Him to act.  Most Christians, sadly, don't do that; if they were honest, they'd pray, "God, I need your help, but I don't really expect it, so I'm going to work this thing out by myself."  And that's not the kind of faith that Jesus notices.

He notices the kind of faith that causes us to abandon our own foolish, inadequate solutions, and depend on Him.  He notices the kind of faith that says "God, Your help is 'Plan 'A.' I have no 'Plan B!'"

He notices the kind of faith that causes us to drop the ropes!


  1. Is my faith in God a matter of belief, or is it something that can actually be seen? God asked me that Himself a few years back when I decided to stick with Him rather than resume going my own way, disbelieving. I'd only been saved a few short years. I've never regretted following Him.

  2. What an interesting description of faith!

    I was at the "end of my rope" when I put my trust in God, and He not only saved me, but He's been working in my life ever since.

    "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." John 20:29

    I've never seen Jesus in the flesh, but I trust Him with all that I am.