John Bradshaw - The Unsung
It's great to be with you today. Let's pray together as we begin.
Our Father in heaven, we're grateful for Your presence with us. We gather around the Bible, asking for Your Spirit to be poured out. We pray that You'd touch hearts and minds and lives and allow us to be impacted by Your grace now. Bless us, please, for Your glory, we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Thirty-six minutes by train from London's Paddington Station in England is the town of Slough in the county of Berkshire. Now, Slough is an unremarkable sort of place. You can find, nearly always, something remarkable about virtually any part of Great Britain, inasmuch as the country is so beautiful. It's so old; it's tremendously historic. But for a place in a remarkable country, Slough is unremarkable enough. In 1937, the poet John Betjeman wrote this about Slough; he wrote, "Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! It isn't fit for humans now, There isn't grass to graze a cow. Swarm over, Death"! There was evidently some concern about rural Slough losing its character as factories sprung up everywhere, and that poet was not a fan. Not long ago, a man died in Slough who was anything but unremarkable. He was a hero. For decades, an unsung hero.
In late 1938, Nicholas Winton changed his holiday plans. Instead of skiing in Switzerland, he chose to visit a friend in Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia. His friend had asked him to help him to work in behalf of Jews, Jews who were feeling Hitler's noose tighten around their collective neck. So he began an organization dedicated to saving at-risk Jewish children. Assisted by Britain's House of Commons, Winton, facing as much red tape as you might expect, or more, if you're not somewhat familiar with the way these things worked back then, arranged for 669 Jewish children to escape Czechoslovakia and find refuge in Britain. One of those who paid tribute to Sir Nicholas Winton after his death was one of those very children who grew up in England and became a member of the British Parliament.
Winton was often compared to Oskar Schindler. You've heard of Schindler of "Schindler's List". But he didn't like the comparison. He said, he said, "I wasn't heroic. I was never in danger". Six hundred and sixty-nine children and their families, many of whom perished, might have disagreed with that statement. But what's really interesting about Sir Nicholas Winton's actions is that the world would never have known about what he did had his wife not stumbled across a scrapbook in their attic in 1988, 50 years after the fact. For 50 years, half a century, no one knew what this man had done. He was subsequently honored many times by the British government, the Czech government, by the British royal family. That's why he's Sir Nicholas Winton, or became Sir Nicholas Winton. Fifty years passed, and nobody knew what he had done except for him. He died 76 years to the day after a train, carrying the largest cargo of escaping children, left Prague bound for freedom, 241 of them. And for 50 years, nobody knew. But Sir Nicholas Winton knew, and he felt that that was enough.
Let's begin by turning in our Bibles to Mark chapter 2, to a remarkable passage. I am certain you have pondered it. It's where the roof is opened up. You've seen that picture in your mind's eye before. If you've allowed your imagination to wander a little further, you've entertained comical images of Jesus being showered with dust and detritus, things that would gather on a roof, and you've realized that Jesus might not have minded His dust shower that much at all. So let's begin reading in Mark chapter 2; we pick it up in verse 1. Mark 2:1, the Bible says, "And again He entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that He was in the house". When Jesus showed up, there was some noise; there was some excitement. When Jesus was in town, word spread. When Jesus was in town, people gathered.
Now, they weren't all there for entirely altruistic reasons, or to necessarily have their spiritual needs met. Some were there just to cause trouble. Some were there just to cast judgment, not unlike a lot of churches today. But there were the genuine seekers there as well, and Jesus was there for them. You know, prospectors might search and search for weeks and months and years trying to find gold. In the old days, they'd trek across the continent, spend time and energy and money quarrying their way through tons and tons of worthless rock. But they did it because it was worth it when they found the gold. Virologists and chemists and geneticists and pharmacologists and scientists spend years and years searching for breakthroughs that will lengthen life or relieve suffering, or simply provide some new scrap of knowledge that, added together with other advances, might push back against disease. It might be years of seemingly fruitless searching, but they do it because they know that ultimately it will be worth it.
One man, an oncologist at University of California in Los Angeles, UCLA, dedicated his career to curing cancer. But in spite of what he called his "murderous resolve," one writer said, after many years, it was "all resolve and no result". But there he was, experimenting, working in his lab, testing and testing and testing, and through hard work and serendipity and a multiplicity of various factors, the result of his work was something called Herceptin. Not a magic bullet by any means, but definitely one of the most stunning advancements ever in the battle against breast cancer. Anyone whose life is dedicated to the well-being of others will tell you it's worth the effort; it's worth the grind; it's worth the hassle; it's worth the headache. You know that in ministry, not all roads are well-paved. Not all leads pan out. Not all Bible study interests are really interested. Not all visitors to your local church come back again next week. But we work for them anyway.
On the one hand, we work because we cannot tell the gold from the iron pyrite, that's fool's gold. And on the other, because God knows that the exercise of being involved in ministry is as good for the minister as it is for the one being ministered to. How many of those people Mother Teresa ministered to actually converted to faith in God? You see, that's not what's important. The impact wasn't in the numbers but in the action itself. Her example was powerful. So for us, ours is to love. Ours is to serve. We do it as intelligently as we might, we give it our all, we give God our hearts as fully as we can, and then we leave it with God. When the Bible studies are all done, when the food has all been given to the homeless, when the last health screening has been done and the last evangelistic sermon preached, if we've worked with Jesus, if we've worked in His grace, we've been more blessed than anyone.
Not long ago, I was at a camp meeting, and I met a young couple; they looked familiar. They started to tell me the story, and then I remembered. Let's call him, let's call him Simon. "Simon? No. Is this Simon"? "Yes, it's Simon". Well, Simon had been baptized. And 11 years later, here he was, still with church folk. Here's what happened with Simon. Simon came forward on an altar call. Then, after his baptism, he led his families in the ways of God. His family got involved in ministry. His three daughters became active sharing their faith. Now, you know something, when a series of meetings is conducted, you know that the majority of people typically don't make a decision for Jesus. But we praise the Lord for those who do. And here was one, years later, who came through and made a decision.
So ask yourself: Who's more blessed? The person who makes the decision for Jesus? Or that individual who studies or preaches or shares and then later sees that dear soul come to faith in God and a life of ministry? A young man approached me recently. He said, "You remember that series of meetings that you held in such-and-such a place"? "Yes, I do. It was tough". And the town smelled terrible because in the middle of that town there was a fertilizer plant or a pet food plant or somewhere; you could smell it everywhere you went. Nobody could forget that town. Who could forget that series? A handful of people baptized. I don't know how many of them I remember, until this young man said, "I was baptized in that meeting". And then he said, "And now I'm a pastor". Wow! Who's more blessed?
When you share your faith, and somebody makes a decision for Jesus, that does something to you. Although, most of the time, you don't even know. You don't know what became of those people you ministered to on that mission trip. You don't get to see what happened when you left, and the church grew, and some of those you ministered to became disciple-makers, and others who hadn't made decisions yet did so after you were gone. Let me share this with you. I was in a certain city holding an evangelistic series. And a lady and her daughters filled out a decision card and said, "Yes, we want to be baptized".
So as we got talking, I asked them about how it was they seemed to already have quite a lot of information about the subjects that we were discussing. And so they said, 37 years before, they filled out some kind of card or sent in for something, and a kind old church member started driving out to their home once a week. And he took with him one of those old Dukane projectors and showed them those old things that used to be projected through the Dukane machines. And they started to study and open up their Bibles. They didn't just look at the pictures; they opened up their Bibles and looked at the Word of God. And, and I imagine it going like this: I imagine that church elder going back to his church and saying, "Pray for the Smiths. We've had three Bible studies now, and they're a beautiful family, and I believe, I believe they love God, or they're gonna learn to love God. Ten Bible studies we've had. Pray for the Smiths. Oh, what a family! They're thinking about coming to church. We studied baptism, and they're interested in being baptized".
You can imagine. Well, here's what happened. They got to the end of the series, Mum and Dad and seven children, they got to the end of the series of Bible studies. That dear old church member, he was a church elder, grabbing the projector under one hand, under one arm, and taking his Bible in the other, putting everything in his car, driving 20, 30, 40 minutes to the home, praying as he went, praying as he came home. He got to the end of that series of meetings, and it was Dad who spoke up, and he said, "You know, we're not going to. We've thought about it, and we're just not gonna take this any further. We're not gonna attend church; we're not going to be baptized". Imagine how that old church elder felt, coming back to church, and somebody would've said, "Hey, Larry, how are the Smith family doing"?
I imagine he would've sighed, and maybe his shoulders slumped, and maybe he bowed his head. And he would've said, "You know, they've just decided not to. And I prayed with them, and I lifted up Jesus, and I encouraged them, and I appealed to them, and they've just said no, so let's keep praying for the Smith family". And, evidently, somebody must've kept praying for the Smith family because as I met with Mom and two of the daughters, I said to Mom, "So, how did you hear about this series"? And she said, "We heard an ad on the radio. And I said to my girls", adult girls now, they're in their, well into their 40s, "I said to my girls, 'Do you think this is something like what we studied with when that kind man came to our house all those years ago?'" And they came out, and they started to learn about how the Bible can be trusted, about the prophecy in the book of Daniel, Daniel chapter 2, the head of gold, the chest and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, and the feet made out of iron and clay. And they said, "This sounds like what we studied decades ago". Decades ago.
So, as we talked about the teachings of the Bible, they just checked it off in their mind, and they said, "We believed that then, and we'd have done something then, but Dad said no. And we believe that, and we believe that, and we love God, and we want Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, and we want to be baptized". And at the end of that series of meetings, Mom and her two daughters were baptized, and Dad became part of the family of God as well. Can you say amen? Can you imagine that reunion in heaven? There's one church elder who's going to get a wonderful surprise. Something in his heart said to him, "Maybe they'll never make a decision". My guess is he went to his grave praying that they'd make a decision one day. And so we work; we labor, because one day God is going to do something with the loaves and fishes we bring Him. Jesus was in that house.
Many of the people weren't there for good reasons. Jesus was there looking for those who were hungry, looking for those who were interested, looking for those who would make a decision. Even if it wasn't today, maybe it would be tomorrow. Jesus, like a gold miner, was digging through the rock, looking for the gold. Mark 2 and verse 2. And the Bible says in Mark 2:2, let me get my page. Mark 2:2, "And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and He", that's Jesus, "preached the Word to them". Let me tell you, that's where the power is. There is power in the Word. Lives are changed through the power in the Word of God. Now, you can't always get straight to the Word of God. That's one reason that Jesus spent more time healing than preaching. Hearts have to be opened up. Minds need to be opened up and even reprogrammed.
There are valleys that need to be exalted; there are mountains that need to be lowered now. Certain things need to be made straight, crooked places made straight, rough places made plain. The Lord has given us entering wedges, and what are they for? They're not an end unto themselves. They are given so that eyes might be opened up and hearts might be opened up to the sharing of the Word of God. So keep that in mind. Entering wedges are entering wedges. Without a key, you're not going to get into the car, all things being equal. But the key is not that which moves the car from point A to point B. An entering wedge would be called, let's say, in chemistry, a catalyst, something that's not part of the end experiment, but it's something that gets things moving, that brings about a reaction of some kind.
So there was Jesus in the house, and He preached the Word to them. Let's remember there is power in the Word of God. You might not be able to convince, but there is power in the Word of God. You might not be able to tell somebody and have them follow, but there's power in the Word of God. We don't wanna drag somebody; we'd like to lead somebody to Jesus, and there is power in the Word of God. Very often, there's a need for a catalyst to get people to the Word of God, and all of us have been called by God to be those catalysts, to be an entering wedge or to be somebody who utilizes an entering wedge. Verse 3 says, "And they come unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four". Now, notice this. We already know how the story ends. We know that. But here's the key: There are four people in this story whose names are not known. Now, who was it who won the battle of Jericho? Joshua won the battle of Jericho. "Only a boy named... David, only a little sling".
Now, who was it who was, I just about gave it away. Who was it who was "a wee little man"? Now, you knew that already. Zacchaeus was a wee little man. How, who was it who had many sons? Father Abraham had many sons. We know these people. They are famed and famous; they're notorious; they're well-known; we sing about them. There was no song written about these men. We don't even know their names. Evidently, what they were called is not important. What they did is important enough that it got them column inches in the Bible. Their exploits have gone down in the annals of history. These unnamed men, the anonymous four, the unsung. You expect they were known to the people in Peter's house, known in Capernaum, but we're not told their names. We don't celebrate them; we celebrate what they did. How do you think they would've felt about that?
There are plenty of Bible stories that follow a similar pattern. Jesus is teaching one day. There are thousands of people listening, 5,000 men, in addition, women and children with them. How many would that be? Conservatively, we would say 10,000. Not all of them would've been married; not all of the wives would've been present; only so many children would've been there that day. So let's say 10,000 people. Jesus fed thousands of people that day, maybe 10,000 people, and all because of the willingness of a young boy to give his food to Jesus. What a miracle that was! Jesus fed the multitudes. How excited do you think the people really were? Really, with 10,000 people there, it's hard to know how many of them knew how the food had been produced. Maybe they all knew. A young boy had five loaves and two fish. The crowd was blessed. What did they get? Fed. They already ate three times a day; there was nothing extraordinary in what they experienced. But the boy, he gave his lunch to Jesus, and he saw Jesus do something extraordinary in his life through his simple act of charity.
Who was blessed more? The people who said, "I ate today," or the boy who was able to say, "It was my food, through the blessing of Jesus, who fed those people. It was I gave my lunch so they could eat"? And who was the boy? We don't even know. Don't know his name, and we don't know what became of him. Years later, the people would remember bread and fish. The boy would remember what Jesus did through his generosity, "Jesus fed these people using my gift". He learned that day that whatever you have, when you give it to Jesus, even if it's very little, someone is gonna be blessed. And most of all, you'll be blessed. The paralyzed man was carried to Jesus by four men. They're not named, but that man would not have been healed without them.
Mark chapter 2, verse 4, "And when they could not come nigh unto Him for the press, they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay". Here's that scene we spoke of earlier. These friends opening up the roof of that home, a roof that had been designed to be opened up, to be sure, the people looking on, the Pharisees thinking, "That's all very undignified". The teenage boys thinking, "Wow, how cool is that"? The mothers thinking, "I hope that poor man doesn't fall out of that bed that he's being lowered in. I hope nobody gets hurt". What a scene! And all for a special purpose. And now let's think. Let's think about how these four men were part of heaven's answer in this man's life. The text does not say they studied the Bible with them. The text does not say they convinced him to accept a new doctrine. It does not say they convinced him to break off an old habit.
What did they do? They carried him. They provided transport. They were medical missionaries. They brought the man to the One who could heal him completely. Isn't this a wonderful example of what we can be when we give ourselves to the Lord? God does the healing, but we can play a part in that. It's the touch of Jesus that makes the difference, and yet we are privileged to be able to participate. Mark 2, verse 5. The Bible says, "When Jesus saw their faith, He said unto the sick of the palsy, 'Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.'" Physical healing and spiritual healing. You know, in Luke's account of this story, it says that "the power of the Lord was present to heal them". Luke 5:17. A key point. There was power present to heal all who wanted to be healed, but many hardened their heart instead of yielding to the healing of Jesus.
Let me ask you this: How is it with you? Whenever the Bible is opened, there's an opportunity for you to experience spiritual healing. What did Luke say? The power of the Lord was present to heal anyone who wanted to be healed. We know that that didn't simply, or that didn't actually happen. We don't want only physical wellness. We want to have spiritual wholeness. But how are you doing in that regard? Let me ask you, we're looking at this story about the healing of somebody else. I want to ask you how it is with your heart. I've often thought of the religious leaders in Jesus' day. They had the best seat in the house. They saw so much of Jesus. They watched Him. They tracked Him. They heard reports of Him. But while the healing was going on, they were only getting sicker and sicker. God calls us to be used by Jesus to make a difference in somebody's life. It might be obvious; it might be less obvious.
You might see the results of that; you might never see the results of that. Either way, simply being involved in that process, you are blessed, and you're fulfilling the calling that Jesus has placed upon the church. "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations," Jesus said. "I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people". Jesus said, "Those are your marching orders. And so go now". As we go, we are blessed, and as we go, whether we see it or not, somebody is gonna be touched by the hand of God. That elder I spoke to earlier, that church, that local church leader, he didn't see anybody come to faith in God.
I saw people baptized. Why were they baptized? Well, the Lord worked. That It Is Written series of meetings certainly had its place. But really it was the work of that elder, as God used that dedicated Christian man to reach people with the good news, a man whose name I cannot tell you. He's one of the unsung. He simply was used by Jesus, let God work through him. And in eternity, we are going to see the difference that was made through someone whose name we don't know. I wanna share with you about Howard's story. Howard's wife asked her pastor if the pastor would study the Bible with Howard. Of course, he told her, "I would love to. I'd love to". But when he visited Howard, he found that Howard really wasn't interested in Bible studies. In fact, Howard was an atheist.
So Pastor Dave decided he would leave aside the Bible studies for a while and simply visit Howard as a friend. And he discovered Howard was very fond of classical music. Howard had worked as a musician and as an arranger. So every week before he went to visit Howard, Pastor Dave would read something about classical music and then he'd go and talk about that with Howard. Howard liked Pastor Dave. He really liked that Pastor Dave knew so much about classical music. In the meantime, Pastor Dave was praying for Howard: "Lord, I don't see the way through, but I am praying that there'll be a breakthrough and that we can touch this man's heart". An elderly man, an atheist whose heart is now opening up to God, someone who dug his heels in many times before.
Pastor Dave was praying for Howard. In fact, one night he woke up at around 3:00 or so, strongly impressed to pray for Howard. So he eased himself out of bed, so as not to disturb his wife. He said he banged his shin against some furniture, stood on a piece of Lego that had been left in the hallway by one of the kids, you know how much that hurts. And he went to the living room and prayed for Howard. Howard, meanwhile, had a dream. In this dream, Jesus was coming back, and God was asking Howard to give his heart to Jesus. He told his wife about it. She said, "What are you gonna do"? He said, "No, I'm not gonna do anything at all, because, after all, it was just a dream". But the dream happened again.
So Howard started to wonder if this wasn't God speaking to him. He thought he should attend church with his wife. And then Pastor Dave invited him to attend our It Is Written evangelistic series in the city of Chattanooga in Tennessee. On the third night, we made an appeal for people to give their life to Jesus. Howard filled out a card. His wife looked over. She said later she just couldn't believe what she was seeing. On the way out that night, Howard found Pastor Dave, and he said to Pastor Dave, "Pastor, what do I have to do to join the club"? After talking it through, Pastor Dave realized Howard had had that impressive dream at the very same time Pastor Dave had got out of bed in the middle of the night to pray for his friend. Howard passed away a very committed member of God's church.
So what was it that Pastor Dave did? Honestly, nothing extraordinary. Unless you count friendship as extraordinary, unless you count taking time for somebody as extraordinary. The man didn't even want to study the Bible. So Pastor Dave simply continued to visit, and he continued to pray, and God turned that resistance into complete surrender. God is calling you and me both to do something for someone. It might be as simple as visiting and talking about music and praying while we do, praying when God places it on our heart, praying in between times that our friend, our contact, this person we're visiting, would turn towards Jesus and embrace Him. Mark chapter 2, those four, the unsung, again, didn't study the Bible with him, as far as we know, didn't convince him to give up what he believed about this doctrine or that doctrine, didn't do that. We're not told that they taught him anything new or persuaded or dissuaded him in any way. But they did what they could. They picked him up and carried him.
Can you carry the corner of a bed? You might never have the opportunity to conduct an evangelistic series of your own, although if you get that opportunity, take it. You'll be blessed. I don't know if you'll ever address a vast crowd of people. But if that's what we think soul-winning and witnessing comprises, then we're missing the point. There's a time for reaching out to somebody, for making a difference in somebody's life, for taking the corner of a bed, and with others, carrying that somebody into the presence of Jesus. Because they did something so profoundly simple, that man's story is written in the Bible. Generation after generation after generation of people have been inspired by those words in Mark chapter 2.
Can I speak to you today? Really wanna speak to your heart. Is God waiting for you to take hold of the corner of a bed and carry somebody to the presence of Jesus? Is there somebody you can share with, a Bible study, a loaf of bread, a shoulder to lean on, a ride to the supermarket? God can reach people through the simplest of means because God reaches people through people. While we do nothing more than occupy pews, while we pontificate and argue about who's right and who's wrong, while we pride ourselves on "Well, we've got the truth, and I have the Bible, and I know all the prophecies". I'm not putting that thought into your heart or those words into your mouth, but people do that, and they do that without ever carrying the corner of a bed.
Nicholas Winton could've gone skiing the Alps of Switzerland, but he put that aside. He decided he wouldn't minister to his own needs, his own desire for fun. Instead, he'd do something that made a difference. What a difference he made. No one would've known, except one day his wife was in the attic of their home looking through some boxes; she found a little book. If she had known what that list of names was all about, she would've recognized them as Czech names. Beside the names of all of those children were two other names, parents, and then another name, the family in England to whom those children went. She found that book, and she said, "What's this"?
And then the story tumbled out. The story of a man who did something to help someone. When you accept God's invitation to do something to help someone, God works. And most of all, He works in your life. What if today we pray and ask God to use us to do something great? Sometimes great things are small things. The unsung did something great. They carried the corner of a bed. Is God asking you to do something for Jesus? I think He is. Let me pray with you.
Our Father in heaven, we're grateful today for the opportunity to know You, and then to serve You, and then to reach out to others the wonderful knowledge of a loving Savior that we have. There's not a lot of time left for this world, Lord; there's just not. Jesus is coming back soon. Please, don't let us merely occupy pews. Don't let us do that. Don't let us just fritter away opportunities and waste opportunities where we could at least lift Jesus up before others so that He might draw others to Himself.
Friend, is God asking you to carry the corner of a bed, to pray for someone to reach out to? To do something, no matter how small, that would shine the light of the gospel on somebody's pathway? If God is asking you to do that, I pray you'll take that opportunity.
Heavenly Father, use us for Your glory. Raise Your church up to do something great for Your kingdom, to reach souls for eternity. We pray in Jesus' name.