I think that I am one of those people who inadvertently has a sign on his back that says, "Ask me for a ride." I have a long track record of being out in public (at the gas station, the grocery store, etc.) and being approached by someone in need of a ride. There must be something about my 6'3'', large frame that communicates that I am a safe person from whom to get a ride, because I've given rides to a lot of strangers over the years who have asked me for one out of the blue.
One of these rides that I've given stands out in my memory: several years ago I was at the old Har Mar mall in Roseville, and I saw a man walking through the parking lot. He asked me for a ride, and I obliged.
"Where are you headed?" I asked, after he had gotten in the car and I learned his name was Alex. "Caribou Coffee," he said. And then he let out a long sigh and said, "I'm going to meet a friend of mine there and tell him that this whole Christianity thing just isn't working for me." (Hello, providence?)
It wasn't a long drive to the Caribou, but in the brief time that I had with Alex I learned that he had fallen on some very hard times, even struggling with homelessness. He had a friend, however, who had been witnessing to him and encouraging him to believe the gospel. But even in spite of Alex's attempts at faith, his physical circumstances had not changed much, and he felt that if he became a Christian, then his physical circumstances would improve - his life would get better and he would stop struggling so much. That didn't happen, however, and so Alex was on his way to meet with this Christian friend to tell him that "this whole Christianity thing just isn't working for me."
I was able to give him some brief words of encouragement, pray for him, and then drop him off at Caribou where he would go on to have his conversation. I never saw him again, and I didn't have any contact information for him. I have no idea how that conversation went or where he is now in his spiritual life and growth.
I do know one thing for sure, however: this man had a friend who had a great faith, and who was doing everything he could to bring that man to the feet of Jesus.
We see this same kind of friendship and dedication in Luke 5.17-26, when a man's group of friends bring him to see Jesus, but are unable to access him because of the large crowd that is present. The man had a physical condition that left him paralyzed, and his friends were hoping that Jesus could help him. Doing their best to fulfill their mission, they get creative and actually go up on the roof of the house and lower the man through the roof until he's right in front of Jesus.
These friends are the kind of friends we all want, and hopefully, want to be to others. These friends believed in Jesus, and they knew that he could help their friend - both physically and spiritually. They knew that Jesus had the power to heal him, and they knew that Jesus had something else this man needed: the power to forgive sins. And so, they did everything in their power to get their friend some face time with Jesus. Even when they hit a roadblock and their "Plan A" wasn't successful, they moved on to "Plan B" and got creative in order to find a way to get this man to Jesus.
When Jesus sees everything they've done to arrange this encounter, he responds in a very strange way. It says in Luke 5.20 - "And when he saw their faith, he said, "Man, your sins are forgiven you," (emphasis mine). That's odd, because Jesus appears to forgiven the man's sins on the basis of his friends' faith. This is not the pattern that we see in scripture. Instead, what we see in the Bible is that an individual is always saved by grace through his own faith, not the faith of someone else. No one is saved on account of someone else's faith. You can't be saved because your mom and dad believe the gospel, nor can you be saved because your friends are Christians. God is calling each one of us - individually - to repent and believe. Although Jesus is moved by the faith of these friends and the lengths they went to in order to arrange this meeting, they are not the cause of this man's salvation.
But we should not miss the overwhelming power of the faith of a friend as displayed in these verses. God will reward the faith of those who believe with every ounce of their being that if they can just bring a friend or relative to the feet of Jesus, he will save them. God uses faithful friends to accomplish his purposes on the earth, including the salvation of people he has chosen to redeem. God sees the intensity of our desires for others to be saved, and he rewards our faith.
The man that I described earlier obviously had a faithful friend that was attempting to get him in front of Jesus. So far it hadn't been too successful, but this friend was clearly believing that God could save Alex, and he was working and operating in that belief. God had so far seen this friend's faith and desire for Alex to believe the gospel, and God had orchestrated times and places where Alex could hear the gospel and believe it. God even set up that meeting between Alex and his friend and Caribou. God works through faithful friends.
Are you a faithful friend? Do you have a desire to bring your friends and relatives to the feet of Jesus, and are you willing to get creative about how you will do that? Are you willing to work hard and maybe pursue some unorthodox avenues to make it work (like digging through a ceiling and lowering your friend through it?). Be a faithful friend, and do whatever it takes to bring people to the feet of Jesus so that they can encounter him and receive the healing they need.