Founders Journal · Fall 2003 · pp. 13-18
Do Something Extraordinary
And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:1–12).
We can summarize the message of these verses in this way: Jesus did something extraordinary when ordinary men took extraordinary measures to meet an extraordinary need.
There can be no doubt that the four men in this passage were dealing with an extraordinary need. As they made their way to hear Jesus preach, they came across a paralyzed man. How long had he been paralyzed? We cannot say. It would, however, be a dreadful thing to be in that condition for no more than a day. The impression we get is that he had been paralyzed for a very long time.
There also can be no doubt that these men took extraordinary measures. The mass of humanity around Jesus made it impossible for them to set the paralytic before Him. The situation seemed bleak, but they were not deterred. They carted their friend up to the roof, tore through two feet of earth, reeds and branches, and lowered the paralyzed man to Jesus.
Jesus responded to this extraordinary measure by doing a couple of extraordinary things Himself. He first forgave the man of his sins (v. 5). Then to show His critics, the scribes, that He indeed had the authority to forgive sins, Jesus healed the man of his paralysis (vv. 5–12).
Finally, it is clear that these four men were quite ordinary. They disappear from the stage of human history as quickly as they appeared without even having their names mentioned. They are forever obscured in the sea of anonymity.
This passage opens the door for us to consider three vital truths.
We live in a time of extraordinary need
First, we may say that just as the four men in this account were faced with an extraordinary need with the paralyzed man, so are we. The need of our day is manifested in a couple of conspicuous ways. First, there is exceptional evil in general, and then there is exceptional evil and apathy in the church.
It is the second manifestation of the evil of our times that should most concern us, that is, the evil and apathy in the church. We don’t like to admit this, but there is a very clear and definite link between the health of the nation and the health of the church. Jesus says His followers are the salt of the earth. Salt is a preservative. Rub it into meat and it will keep the meat from decaying. In like fashion, Christians are to have a preserving influence on society. Their presence should retard moral decay in their society.
But if the salt loses its saltiness, which is a very real possibility according to Jesus, then there is nothing to retard the moral decay of society. How does salt lose its saltiness? John R. W. Stott says:
Now, strictly speaking, salt can never lose its saltiness … sodium chloride is a very stable chemical compound, which is resistant to nearly every attack. Nevertheless, it can be contaminated by mixture with impurities, and then it becomes useless, even dangerous.
Stott then makes this application: “If Christians become assimilated to non-Christians and contaminated by the world, they lose their influence.”
The sad fact is the modern church has not only lost much of her ability to influence society, but also shows that she has massively succumbed to society’s influence. The impatience of the world with the whole idea of absolute truth is often within the ranks of the church herself. The sexual immorality that is so generally prevalent in society all too often crops up in the church, as does divorce. The addictions to pornography and alcohol so typical of society frequently rear their ugly heads in the church.
The divisions and bickering so apparent in society periodically blemish the church’s witness. The raging tide of self-centeredness that runs through the heart of society often flows unabated through the church as members disregard calls to sacrificial service and focus on their own felt needs and desires. The consumer mentality of society has taken root in our churches as worshipers often come, not to worship the sovereign God, but to be catered to and entertained.
How we Christians need to recognize this! We so easily get caught up in bemoaning the conditions of our day and in pointing fingers of condemnation at wicked people and their wicked ways. Government is to blame! Education is to blame! Hollywood is to blame! The ACLU is to blame! But while the church points her finger of blame at others, God’s finger is pointed squarely at her.
We will be helped at this point by calling to mind the captivity of the people of Judah in Babylon. The prophet Isaiah was enabled by the Spirit of God to see this captivity in advance and to vocalize the prayer that would be on the lips of the people of God during this time (Isaiah 63:16–64:12). It is fascinating that this prayer contains no references to the Babylonians at all. There in the captivity the people would recognize that they were in Babylon, not primarily because of the Babylonians, but because of themselves. They had lived for years in flagrant disobedience to the laws of God and had shown nothing but apathy toward God and spiritual concerns. That was the cause of their captivity. The Babylonians were nothing but instruments God chose to use to judge them for their sins. It was those sins the people focused on as they prayed:
You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved. But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away, and there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:5–7).
The church of today will never see revival until she learns from this prayer, stops blaming the Babylonians of our day, and starts looking to herself and her sins and judging them scripturally. That leads us to yet another truth, that is,
In times of extraordinary need, God has been known to do His extraordinary work of revival.
The four men who lowered the paralytic to Jesus witnessed extraordinary things as Jesus extended forgiveness and healing to him. And down through the centuries, the saints of God have, in times of extraordinary evil, seen God move in a extraordinary way. We call this extraordinary moving “revival.” The word means “back to life” or “back to vitality.”
Only God’s people can experience revival. It is the sovereign act of God in which He moves upon the hearts of His people and restores them to spiritual vitality after they have slipped into a lethargic state.
God has often done this in the life of the church. One of the greatest examples of God’s extraordinary work of revival came during the ministries of George Whitefield and John Wesley. Prior to this, England was in the most dreadful condition imaginable. In the first of his two remarkable volumes on the life of Whitefield, Arnold Dallimore documents the moral and spiritual darkness of that time. He cites “the uncontrollable orgy of gin drinking and the unwonted heartlessness” which often manifested itself in cruelty to animals, and “a deep-sea inhumanity” that had come over England. Crime was so prevalent that the authorities made 160 crimes punishable by death but the tide flowed on unabated. Dallimore writes:
The treatment of the insane, cruelties to children, the London mob—Sir Mob it called itself—the incredible extent of gambling, the obscenity of the stage—“that sink of all corruption” as John Wesley termed it—these and similar aspects of English conditions might be depicted at length.
Conditions in the American colonies were not much better. Samuel Blair on New Londonderry offered this observation in the spring of 1740: “Religion lay, as it were, a-dying and ready to expire its last breath of life.”
Many considered the situation to be utterly hopeless, but God did His extraordinary work of revival. J. R. Green described the effects of this revival in England:
A religious revival burst forth … which changed in a few years the whole temper of English society. The Church was restored to life and activity. Religion carried to the hearts of the people a fresh spirit of moral zeal, while it purified our literature and our manners. A new philanthropy reformed our prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into our penal laws, abolished the slave trade, and gave the first impulse to popular education.
The revival that came to England and the American colonies through the ministries of Whitefield and Wesley is by no means an isolated incident. As many historical accounts of revival show, God has frequently done this extraordinary work. In his perceptive and helpful book, Revival: A People Saturated with God, Brian Edwards lists 57 major revivals from 1150 to l972.
Revivals have not occurred often enough to be classified as ordinary, but they have occurred often enough for the people of God to know that the possibility of revival is not inconceivable. What does God’s extraordinary work of revival look like? What are its distinguishing characteristics? The following are some of the marks listed by revival historian Richard Owen Roberts:
- an intense spirit of conviction will be felt immediately
- pride and self-centered living will no longer be excused
- agony over sin will be so great that the thought of prolonging life in the midst of such wickedness will be intolerable
- the cross of Christ becomes truly precious
- long-standing habits of self-indulgence will be broken
- pastors will become broken
- confession of sin becomes the order of the day
- great interest in the Word of God
- prayer becomes pure delight
- agony for souls becomes prominent
- holiness becomes the prime object of life
- new converts are made without arm-twisting.
(Taken from Richard Owen Roberts’ book, Revival, published by International Awakening Press, Wheaton, Illinois.)
J. I. Packer strikes many of the same notes in these words:
We may list as marks of revival an awesome sense of the presence of God and the truth of the gospel; a profound awareness of sin, leading to deep repentance and heartfelt embrace of the glorified, loving, pardoning Christ; an uninhibited witness to the power and glory of Christ, with a mighty freedom of speech expressing a mighty freedom of spirit; joy in the Lord, love for His people, and fear of sinning ….
One or two of these marks could legitimately be considered extraordinary, but revival produces all of them. There can be no doubt, therefore, that revival deserves to be called God’s extraordinary work. That brings us to another truth, which may be stated in this way:
God usually does His extraordinary work of revival by prompting ordinary people to take extraordinary measures.
The four men in Mark 2 resorted to an extraordinary measure with their friend. They regarded the situation as being so desperate and critical that it required something unusual. They knew a business-as-usual approach would not bring the healing the man so urgently needed. So they took an extraordinary measure that was consistent with their end, a measure that allowed them to get the paralytic to Jesus.
Revivals begin when the people of God recognize the exceptional need of their time, and so feel the burden of the times that they turn away from routine “churchianity” and give themselves to using extraordinary measures to seek revival.
All sorts of churches are using extraordinary measures these days. Super Bowl parties, 1000-foot-long banana splits, increasingly lavish pageants—these things seem to be the order of the day. But God has not promised to do His extraordinary work of revival when the church uses any extraordinary measures she desires, but rather when she uses the measures He has appointed in an extraordinary way.
Humble, fervent, repentant prayer is the means God delights to use in sending His extraordinary work of revival. Jonathan Edwards says of the Lord:
When He is about to bestow some great blessing on His Church, it is often His manner, in the first place, to so order things in His providence as to show His people their need of it, and to bring them into distress for lack of it, and so put them upon crying earnestly to Him for it.
We must be careful that we do not fall into the trap of thinking that normal praying produces revival. The means of prayer must be used in an extraordinary way. It is not just a matter of tacking this formula on the end of our prayers, “And, Lord, please send revival.”
Revival does not come by simply praying and talking about how desperately it is needed and how wonderful it would be. We have been doing that for years. Revival is most likely to come when God’s people give themselves to prayer in an exceptional way. As Edwards himself would say, there must be explicit agreement, visible union and extraordinary prayer. God’s people must agree that revival is needed and join together to seek it by taking prayer to uncommon levels. Extraordinary praying means praying much with an extraordinary burden and fervency at extraordinary times.
In these days of exceptional evil and apathy, the piercing question for each of us to ask is, “Am I doing anything of an extraordinary nature to seek God for a refreshing, cleansing work of revival? Or am I merely lamenting the evil of the day while excusing myself from extraordinary prayer?”
There is great encouragement for us on this matter of revival. If we were planning revival, we would probably have God bring it to one of the population and media centers of our day, using celebrities to do so. But God delights to use the humble and the ordinary. He usually sends His extraordinary work of revival to little people in little places who feel the need of the times and resort to extraordinary measures.
There is no need for us, then, to respond to the evil of the times by saying with a shrug, “There is nothing I can do.” There is something every Christian can and must do, namely, give God no rest until He again makes His work and His people “a praise in the earth” (Isaiah 62:7).