Rooftops: Faith turns roofs into doors.

Have you ever locked yourself out of your house? Did you figure out a way to get back in? My neighbor’s daughter locked herself out of their house while they were away. To help her, we had to pry up the kitchen window. My son crawled through and opened the door for her.

When I was a kid, I grew up in a solar house with lots of windows and slanted roofs. When I was locked out, I could usually find a way in through a garage window or through an unlocked greenhouse sliding door. I remember one time everything was shut tight. To get in, I had to climb up my dad’s ham radio tower to the roof. We had big plate glass windows that were able to be pushed open and closed to let the extra heat out of the rooms. I managed to push one of them open, and I was small enough to slip through. The problem was, these windows were high, 15 feet high! So, I had to pick a room where there was a piece of furniture below, so I didn’t have to jump that height.

Like me, a group of fellows in Jesus’ day climbed up on the roof to get into a house. But, the roof they climbed on looked very different than mine. In Bible times, the rooftop is also a very different cultural space than roofs today in our American context. The ancient roof was used as a bedroom, a dining room, a closet, a chapel and a stage. And as we get to Jesus, a roof is transformed into a door. From this story we learn that Jesus has the power to transform both our soul and body into a place we want to dwell forever.

Ancient Near Eastern Roofs

Roofs on the common Israel four-room houses, which we learned about in a previous post, were flat. This enabled people to use the roof as another living space or for storage. The roof was reached by either a staircase or a wooden ladder. The roof was made on top of wooden beams, which ran from the top of one wall to the other wall, with a layer of sticks or reeds between the beams. Then, everything was covered with layer of mud. Roofs in wealthier homes during the Roman era had terra cotta tiles.

Artist: Paula Giltner Nash. This image is the property of Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing.

The roofs required a lot of upkeep since they were made of mud. Roofs were leaky in rain and would dry and crumble in dry weather. Ecc 10:18 describes a person with a leaky roof as lazy and idle, because they took a lot of work! Every house had a roof roller on the corner of the roof to pack down these layers of mud. (Can you spot the roof roller in the picture?) The roller helped the roof stay smooth and as water proof as they could make  it. These roof rollers were ubiquitous. Hundreds have been discovered in archeological digs.

The roof space was used as another room of the house. Families would often sleep under the stars on their roofs, since the temperatures were cooler than the lower, enclosed levels. Curtained walls or reed walls, called “booths,” were erected to make an upper room on the roof top. The roof room was often used for a guest room. Saul slept on a roof in 1 Samuel 9:26 as he was traveling with Samuel before being anointed as king. Nehemiah 8:16 describes the returned Israelites making booths for Sukkoth on their roofs. Proverbs  25:24 and 21:9 describe husbands who moved into these roof rooms because of marital problems. They would say, “I slept on the roof last night.”

In the cities, the roofs would all connect together. You could take a stroll along the rooftops. The palace roof was usually at the highest part of the city, so the king could see down into the city. Daniel 4:29 describes Nebuchadnezzar walking on his roof looking out into his city. King David saw Bathsheba from his roof. Note that she was not bathing on her roof. She could have been inside her house, in the uncovered courtyard portion. From his vantage point, David could see into the private portion of the city’s houses. David was again on his roof when he saw a runner coming into the city to tell of his son Absalom’s defeat.

The roof was also used as a stage. It was a place where everyone could see and hear you. Matthew 10:27 and Luke 12:3 describe shouting something from the rooftops for all to hear. Absalom pitched a tent on the palace roof and slept with all his father’s concubines “in sight of all Israel.” (2 Samuel 16:22) Judges 16:27 describes a party where blind Samson was brought out to entertain the Philistine nobles. In this case, 3,000 of them were on the roof looking down at the entertainment. Samson pushed the columns holding the roof over.

The roof was used for storage. During harvest, fruits and grains would be laid out to dry. Rahab had flax, a plant used to spin into linen, drying on her roof when the two Jewish spies came to visit.

Often, the roof provided a quiet place for prayer. Peter went to the roof to pray when he received a vision from God to include the Gentiles in preaching the gospel. (Acts 10:9) It was also used as a place to worship idols. (Nehemiah 8:16-18; Jeremiah 19:13)

The Story about a Roof becoming a Door

In Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-39, we are told about a roof becoming a door. Jesus was in Capernaum teaching. The Jerusalem Rabbis were in town to question and debate with him. The house was packed out. But there were five guys who really wanted to get in to see Jesus. You see, they had a friend who was unable to walk. They had carried him all this way to have Jesus heal him.

No one in the crowd would let them through. No one would give up their space. But they were not deterred.

Perhaps you are picturing what you know about Galilean houses. It would have been a white-washed mud and stone house with one door leading to a courtyard. Most likely Jesus could be heard from the street, but the windows were too high to see into. Jesus was inside an enclosed room, and no one would budge to let the friends inside. So, the guys found a way up to the roof. Maybe there was a stair, but I imagine if it was easy to reach the roof with a staircase from the outside, there would have been folks up on the roof already. Maybe they had to fetch a ladder and drag the paralyzed friend rung by rung up to the roof. Like thieves, they became roof breakers. They dug through the dried mud and reeds, knocking dust and debris down into the room where Jesus stood.

This image is the copyright of the LUMO project (Big Book Media) and distributed for free download, under license exclusively by FreeBibleimages for teaching purposes only. All rights reserved.

These roof breakers impressed Jesus. It took a lot of chutzpah to destroy someone’s roof and face the consequences of vandalism. Jesus is always impressed by acts of faith. The gospel writers always point out that Jesus sees even the tiniest glimmers of a person’s faith. You want to impress Jesus? Believe in him. Jesus saw their confidence in his ability to heal, and he spoke to the crippled man now lowered down before him. “Child, your sins are forgiven!”

Jesus Forgives.

The Jews had a belief about disabled persons. They thought that the person was paying for either something they did wrong, or something their mother or father did wrong. So, not only did a person suffer from their ailment, they also suffered from the stigma surrounding those with handicaps and disease.

The Jewish teachers with Jesus might have scoffed. Who does this person think he is? He destroyed a roof and created a huge ruckus. Obviously, he is suffering greatly. There must be a good reason for it!

So, when Jesus forgives this disabled kid’s sins, he is getting right at the spiritual root of what everyone thinks is his true problem. Whatever the disabled person had done, or even what the others thought he had done to deserve this handicap … Jesus pardoned it.  Unlike the religious men of his day, Jesus does not hold this kid’s disability against him. He forgives it all.

And now, we truly hear what the teachers with Jesus were thinking.  “Why is this fellow talking like that? He’s saying a very evil thing! Only God can forgive sins!

Jesus Heals.

Jesus knew their thoughts! And he had the perfect answer for them.

“Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven?’ or to say ‘Get up and walk?’ But to prove I have the authority to forgive sins…” Jesus turns to the disabled kid, “Get up and walk. Head on home.”

And the man got up and walked home. Amazement and celebration broke out the crowd. They had never seen anything like it.

Body & Soul, Now & Forever

This story brings together our first two lessons on tents and houses, between the temporary and the eternal. Jesus has the power to transform both our soul and body into a place we want to dwell forever.

Some people believe that following Christ is about going to heaven when you die. They become so focused on life after death that they forget that Jesus came to give us life now. In this story, Jesus is not concerned with the disabled man’s soul alone, because we were not created to be disembodied spirits. Humans are embodied souls. Our current bodies are temporary, but not disposable. His miracle gives us a glimpse of his creative power to build us a new home – with promised upgrades – the resurrection of our own bodies.

This image is the copyright of the LUMO project (Big Book Media) and distributed for free download, under license exclusively by FreeBibleimages for teaching purposes only. All rights reserved.

But, a transformed and perfect body is useless unless the soul inside is ready to live forever. Jesus’ primary action in this story reveals the importance of our soul’s health. He begins by forgiving sins. If you are carrying the weight of your mistakes, anxious over what you have gotten wrong, and feeling shame over things out of your control, Jesus wants to pardon you. And this story proves he has the power to do just that. Jesus does not want your mistakes in this life to keep you away from the eternal home he is preparing for you. He wants you to be willing to let him overlook them. You must be willing to let him forgive.

Lastly, this story shows us how a roof can become a door. The friends broke through the roof to find the door to heaven was Jesus. Jesus invites us to look beyond this life to the next. He promised us a home with him after death. He also makes it possible to break open the “roof” of this life as a door to connect us with the next. This is a perfect metaphor of faith.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray that this life would be like heaven. That God would open the roof to let his kingdom pour down upon us.

Jesus prayed, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus heals our sickness and forgives our sins now, but this is only the beginning! In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul teaches this same idea. He says if anyone has faith in Jesus, they have a new life! The old is gone and new things have come. A life of faith is more than believing that you can go to heaven when you die, it is about a new life now that continues forever.

If you have faith in Jesus, a roof can become a door. You can get a glimpse of heaven even while living on earth. Your forever life begins now.

In Bible times, the rooftop is also a very different cultural space than roofs today in our American context. The roof was used as a bedroom, a dining room, a closet, a chapel and a stage. And as we get to Jesus, a roof is transformed into a door.

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