Sep 27, 2008

Cot Bearers

I was reminded this morning of the importance of regular eye exams and updating prescriptions for your lenses when it is necessary.  Over time, we will become accustomed to whatever comes through the pupils of our eyes and even begin missing the finer details around us.  Indeed, we may even miss seeing something altogether!  This morning, the Lord let me look through some different lenses.

Three of the Apostles - Matthew, Mark and Luke - include the account of an event that happened during Jesus' ministry in Galilee.   The story is not an obscure one.  Children who are exposed to any of the New Testament stories and parables invariably know this one too.  It is the dramatic event of four friends and a friend of theirs who was paralyzed (Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, and Luke 5:12-16).  A side note: isn't it interesting that there were four men who carried him?  It would take that many to lower a "bed", cot, or pallet through the roof - each one perhaps holding a corner.

There are, of course, many angles from which to view this miraculous event early in Jesus ministry - the power of friendship, unbelief vs. belief, forgiveness of sins, determination, perseverance, faith, etc.  But as I read this passage this morning, the message that rang out loud and clear for me was the power and importance of intercessory prayer for those around us. Prayer is not mentioned anywhere in the passage nor discussed.  But the very act of these dear friends carrying their friend to Jesus - one who was not able to travel there on his own - highlights the importance of bringing individuals before the throne of grace through our prayers.  Christ honored the efforts, love and faith of these four men by forgiving the sins of the paralytic and healing him physically.  Spiritual and physical healing.  Nowhere does it say that it was the faith of the man who was paralyzed - he was helpless.  In this case, he needed those around him to "carry him" to the Lord.

What an amazing and humbling perspective of our role and privilege in bringing others to the throne of grace for mercy and healing.  All of us know individuals who are struggling, in pain or burdened with the cares of this world.  We have the opportunity to be one of the "cot bearers" for them - lifting and lowering them to the feet of the Savior.   He will take it from there.

For those of you interested in reading about present day "cot bearers", Abbot Joseph (Mt. Tabor Monastery in California) has written two wonderful accounts of the ministry that monks have in praying for others:  Monks at Prayer (part I) and Monks at Prayer (part II)

Sep 5, 2008

But what about John?

Sometimes my lack of curiosity astonishes me.  I've been a Christian almost 40 years.  I have heard sermons on a variety of topics by a long list of preachers and teachers.  Anyone want to guess how many times I have heard the story of Jesus' birth, the wise men, Herod's anger, the slaughtering of innocent children, and Mary and Joseph's flight into Egypt?  In all of those retellings and reenactments, I never once asked myself, "What happened to Jesus' relative, John, when all the children under two were being slaughtered?"  John, born to Mary's aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Zechariah, was only 6 months older than Jesus.  How did God protect him from this barbarous slaughter of King Herod?  We know that an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt for a period of time.  But what happened to Zechariah, Elizabeth and John?  Obviously, John was protected in some way.

There is nothing in scripture that gives us an answer.  But there does exist a marvelous account that has been passed down through the ages and held dear by Christians for centuries.  Let me share the events that transpired back then.
When King Herod heard from the Magi about the birth of the Messiah, he decided to kill all the infants up to two years old at Bethlehem and the surrounding area, hoping that the new-born Messiah would be among them.

Herod knew about John's unusual birth and he wanted to kill him, fearing that he was the foretold King of the Jews. But Elizabeth hid herself and the infant in the hills. The murderers searched everywhere for John. Elizabeth, when she saw her pursuers, began to implore God for their safety, and immediately the hill opened up and concealed her and the infant from their pursuers.

In these tragic days, Zachariah was taking his turn at the services in the Temple. Soldiers sent by Herod tried in vain to learn from him the whereabouts of his son. Then, by command of Herod, they murdered this holy prophet, having stabbed him while he was between the temple and the altar (MT 23:35). Elizabeth died forty days after her husband, and John, preserved by the Lord, dwelt in the wilderness until the day of his appearance to the nation of Israel. (taken from The Orthodox Church of America website.)

What an amazing demonstration of God's protection for His great messenger, John the Baptizer!  Just as Jesus' life was spared from the unbridled fury of Herod, John's purpose and ministry could not be thwarted.  And what a moving example of dear Zechariah and his wife as they knew the importance of this child that was given to them in their old age.  They were willing to die in order that God's kingdom might be ushered in.

This is only one story that we don't typically hear from the pulpit or in the Sunday school class.  Think of how many more there are and how many we will hear about in eternity!  Glory to Jesus Christ!