The story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man in Mark 2 has long confused me.
In the story, four men bring their friend to the Lord for healing. Because of the crowds, however, they can’t make it to Jesus, so they remove part of the roof above Jesus and lower their friend into the room. At this point, I expect Jesus to heal the man, but he doesn’t do that. Instead, he forgives the man’s sins (Mark 2:5). Jesus heals the man physically as well, calling him to rise up and walk, but only after a brief dialogue about the authority of the Son of Man (see verses 6-12).
Jesus doesn’t do what I expect him to do in this situation. He approaches a situation that appears to be primarily physical and responds to it spiritually. While he does heal the man physically, he first deals with the man’s spiritual need.
I’m beginning to notice that the story of Jesus doesn’t often meet our expectations. The Messiah’s coming was announced not by one standing in the temple but by one crying in the wilderness. The Christ entered the world not in a grand spectacle but in a humble birth, not as an exalted king but as a baby. The announcement of his birth wasn’t proclaimed to rulers or to religious leaders but to shepherds. Wise men from afar followed a star to worship him while the teachers of the day seemed to miss his arrival. As he grew, Jesus spent time not with the righteous but with sinners, touching the untouchable and loving the unlovable. He spoke of an unseen kingdom, not one to overthrow the Roman empire but to transform souls within it. He overcame not by the death of his enemies but by his own death.
Christmas is a time to reflect on Christ’s coming, on what it means for God to be with us. As we read the stories of Jesus, we learn that God with us does not mean that we will be free from pain or from loss or from confusion. Rather, God with us means that God walks with us, weeps with us, hurts with us. He shows us the better way, leads us into it, and saves us to live it out. He does not act according to our expectations; he exceeds them, giving us not what we would expect but what we truly need. And we praise him for it, following him in faith though our eyes may not see the way.
Maybe this year isn’t ending the way you expected it would. Maybe you’re approaching the new year with unmet expectations, shattered hopes, or broken dreams. Maybe you can’t see the road ahead, so you walk forward more in fear than in faith. Maybe you feel like God has failed to meet your expectations. If that’s you, remember the story of Christmas. Remember the ways that Christ did not meet our expectations and all the ways we are better for it. Remember the wisdom and beauty of God’s plan. And remember his love for you, love that sent the Son for the salvation of sinners.
Thanks to Maci Duncan for her help in editing this post.