Breaking through the Barriers of Preaching the Gospel
Based on a sermon by Jung-Yu Ho—Chang Xing, Taiwan
In one of his final epistles, Apostle
Paul encourages Timothy to preach in season and out of season (
Mark 2 records one such healing and teaching event. A crowd had gathered in a particular house to hear Jesus. The place was so packed that no one could enter, let alone a paralytic lying on a bed. Nevertheless, his four friends took it upon themselves to help this man reach Jesus. They carried him, on his bed, to the roof of the house and lowered him to Jesus.
If we associate this incident with evangelism, we can say that the paralytic had to overcome a number of obstacles before he could reach Jesus. These obstacles, or barriers, come in various forms, from physical obstruction like the crowd or the roof that hindered his passage to Christ, to verbal criticisms of Jesus by the scribes who could hinder the faith of those listening to Him.
In their own ways, the different characters from this story, from the owner of the house to the scribes seated before Jesus, can represent examples in preaching, from the negatives—the obstacles or barriers to evangelism—to the positives—breaking through barriers.
First, let us look at barriers that were created: the crowd, the scribes, and possibly, even the paralytic himself.
The crowd had gathered, as a natural response to what they might have heard regarding the miracles performed by Jesus. At a time before any live media coverage, anyone who wanted to see Jesus had to approach Him in person. While it might seem good that many had come to see Jesus, Mark 2:4 records that these people had become a hindrance because the paralytic and the four men carrying him “could not come near [Jesus] because of the crowd.” This suggests that this crowd stopped short of coming to seek Jesus as the paralytic had. Although it is commendable that they wanted to see Jesus, their action was not what Jesus wanted; they were just curious and wanted to witness a sensational event; they did not have any intention of believing in Him. This does not align with what the Lord wants from those who seek Him: to believe in Him and acknowledge their need for Him.
Moreover, the crowd was in the same house as Jesus, and in a way, we could associate the house and the crowd, metaphorically, to the church. Such a reading brings two things to mind. If a church congregation is not united in its efforts to seek Jesus and worse, fail to allow others to seek Him, the church will tragically become a barrier to those who need Jesus. The crowd, too, can also be likened to a church congregation with members who do not exhibit exemplary behaviors and do not lead Christ-like lives; instead of shining for Christ in the way they live their lives, their conduct becomes a barrier to evangelism, putting off those who may wish to reach out to Jesus.
This is the second group that hinders the preaching efforts: the scribes who were seated before Jesus in the house. Despite being placed in the best seat to listen to the words of Jesus, these scribes challenged the message: “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Lk 5:21) They failed to make good use of their prime position to maximize their learning; instead, they remained ignorant and did not believe.
The group of scribes can be likened to some “long-timers” in church who have listened to many sermons but are concerned only with the sermon speakers’ presentation style and with the quality of sermons. Worse, they focus their attention on finding faults with what they hear. They do not allow the word of God to reach their hearts and transform their way of life.
The Paralytic Man
The third character who is a barrier to preaching, some might say rather controversially, is the paralytic himself. In this reading, let us step away from taking the man as someone in need of Jesus and instead, take him as someone who is already a member of the church. In the house of God, being a paralytic would mean that we are not only unable to help others or bring others to church, we need others to help us.
The paralytic needed four men to bring him to Jesus. This translates into effort and manpower resources. In church, if members are weak and need others’ support, then the church resources will be spent taking care of them.
If the paralytic could get up, walk, and work, then the efforts of his four friends could be utilized elsewhere. From the perspective of the church, if every member is healthy and fit, church resources can be channeled to outreach work: preaching the gospel and saving souls.
Hence as members of the church of God, we have to ask ourselves: are we like a paralytic who requires constant care and attention from others? Or are we like the four men who were able to work together to serve God and bring others to His house?
Characters who overcome barriers to achieve their goals are the owner of the house and the four men.
The owner gives us a positive example of breaking through barriers to provide a channel to the preaching work. This unnamed owner of the house supported the work of evangelism by offering his house to Jesus, thus providing a venue for others to gather and for Jesus to preach to them. The owner demonstrated his love when he allowed the four men to tamper with the roof of his house in order to lower the paralytic before Jesus. This house owner therefore presents to us a good example of someone who is willing to make sacrifices in his service for Jesus.
The Bible records many similar examples of such self-sacrifice for us to emulate. One such case is the couple Aquila and Priscilla, who similarly offered their house as a venue for the church to gather.
Even though the owner did not personally carry the paralytic to Jesus, he still offered a precious service by opening his home to others to come to know Jesus. His gesture illustrates the many ways available to us to serve God in the work of preaching.
The Four Men
Finally, the four men who carried the paralytic before Jesus can epitomize the ultimate spirit of breaking through the barriers of preaching, by bringing others to Jesus. These four men had to devise a way to get through the barriers—the crowd and the roof—in order to bring the paralytic before the Lord. Yet, despite these challenges, they did not give up. Instead, they persevered and demonstrated their love for the paralytic. By going the extra mile to help the paralytic, they manifested their faith in Jesus and His power to heal the paralytic.
As God’s workers, we too must have such faith. It is not only those who seek after God who need faith, the workers who help to bring them to church also need faith.
From the examples of the characters recorded in the healing of the paralytic, we learn how we might unwittingly become barriers to the preaching work, and how we can break through these barriers and guide those seeking the true path towards Jesus. In short, we should shun the former and emulate the latter—to be faithful workers of Jesus.