No holding back - Mark 10:46-52
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
They say that truth is stranger than fiction. And that is often so. Take for example the case of the book ‘Scarlet’ sequel to the book and film ‘Gone with the Wind’ which is now a cinema classic. Immediately on its publication the book sold 900,000 copies. What many people don't realise is that the original novel was based on real people and what happened to them is far more interesting than what happened to the fictional characters. There was a Rhett Butler whose actual name was Rhett Turnipseed (you can see why they changed that name can’t you?) And there was a Scarlett O’Hara, though her name was Emelyn Louise Hannon. Rhett did leave her to join the Confederate army, and it was what happened after the Civil War, which makes the story so interesting.
Rhett became a drifter and a gambler, eventually ending up in Nashville. And it was there on Easter morning 1871, that Rhett attended a Methodist revival meeting. He was so moved by what he heard that he became a Christian. Soon after, he attended Bible college and became a Methodist minister. Once he had taken up pastoral charge of a church, he heard that one of his flock had run away and had become a prostitute in a house of ill repute in St Louis. And so off went the Reverend Rhett on his horse. Once he had located the young women he was told by the Madame who ran the brothel that she would not let her go. On further questioning he discovered that the young woman was none other than his former love - Emelyn Louise Hannon. And so Rhett challenged the Madame to a game of cards on the understanding that if he won, Emelyn would walk free. Well, he did win, with a straight royal flush.
Had the story ended there, that would have been marvellous enough, but it doesn’t. The young girl eventually married into a leading family in the state. And after her encounter with the new Rhett, she too gave her life to Jesus Christ and eventually opened an orphanage for Cherokee Indian children. She died in 1903 a much loved and respected Christian woman.
What is the moral of that? It is this: God saves the no-hopers. A drifter and gambler. A woman living off the proceeds of prostitution. Those who society might well right off as life’s inveterate losers, are the very ones God seeks out. And that in fact is what we see in this other story we are considering this morning, the story of blind Bartimaeus. So do turn with me to Mark 10: 46ff as we look at this incredible episode under three headings: An opportunity which is grasped, a rebuke which is ignored, and a faith which is rewarded.
First of all, an opportunity which is grasped v46 - 47 ‘Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me! "’
Now in order to appreciate the full significance of this event, just what spiritual point the story is meant to illustrate, we need to take the context into account. Since chapter 8 Jesus has been hammering home the lesson that as the Christ he must be rejected, suffer, die for the sins of others and then be raised from the dead. That is the kind of King he is - a servant King. And no matter how many times he repeats this point, the disciples simply can’t grasp it. So we have that little episode immediately preceding this one in which James and John approach Jesus seeking to secure for themselves the portfolios of the equivalent to Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer when Jesus establishes his kingdom. And so Jesus has to remind them yet again that his rule isn’t going to be like that. Whoever want to be great has to become the servant of all, just as he came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (v45). So the question is this: will the penny ever drop? Will they ever ‘see’ Jesus for who he really is and what he came to do? And that is where this story comes in, for here in Bartimaeus we have someone who is blind, and yet he sees clearly who Jesus is - the Son of David. And as he comes to Jesus, he discovers that he is the one who makes him whole, a sign of what he can do and will do with the disciples and anyone else who has the humility to recognise their true need, namely, people like you and me.
Now we are told that Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were on their way out of Jericho. The crowd isn’t simply made up of folk who are interested in Jesus, they are no doubt fellow pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to the great religious feast of the Passover, when the Jews commemorated the great escape from Egypt involving the sacrifice of a lamb. What is more, this is Jericho. Now Jericho was renowned for a special balsam bush from which a medicine was made to alleviate certain ophthalmic disorders. Consequently, the city became a refuge centre for many who were blind, gravitating to the area in the hope that they might find a cure. So there would have been dozens of folk like Bartimeaus. And as a result of their disability they were reduced to begging, sitting by the roadside with a cloak spread open at their feet to collect any alms which happened to be thrown in their direction. And that in itself is a graphic picture of men and women without Christ. Because of their spiritual blindness they are reduced to a state of abject spiritual poverty. And only a few like Bartimeaus are willing to do anything about it, that is, go to the only one who can offer the cure. Sadly and unnecessarily so many simply put up with their impoverished state, reducing themselves to the spiritual equivalent of begging - queuing for the car boot sales, or the Christmas shops open on a Sunday, hoping that more and more things will fill the yawning ache in their lives, only to discover that each time it is like drinking salt water, the thirst is never satisfied only stimulated.
Well, here was one of the many beggars on that day, which was like any other day except for the fact that this day, Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, and that was to make all the difference in the world. You can just picture Bartimaeus can’t you? Sitting at the side of the dusty main street, feeling the heart of the sun upon his face, his throat dry from crying out for alms, when he hears a commotion, the exuberant noise of a crowd making its way towards him. And so he makes enquiries. What is going on? Why so many people? He knows it is approaching Passover time and so there were bound to be many pilgrims making their way to the holy temple in Jerusalem, but this crowd seems to be more excited than usual. There was an electric charge of expectation in the air, you could almost feel it. That was one thing that could be said for his blindness, it did seem to cause his other senses to be heightened. Then someone tells him. ‘Bartimeaus, you have heard of Jesus of Nazareth haven’t you? Well he is here, at the centre of the crowd.' Well, yes he had, who hadn’t? And what of all those rumours which surrounded him. Jesus the teacher. Jesus the healer. Jesus the Messiah, some said - dangerous talk that, subversive talk, traitor language, the sort of thing that could get a man into trouble if the Roman’s got wind of it. But, what if it was true? He had been to synagogue school as a boy, he had heard the scriptures read and explained, he knew of the promise given in 2 Samuel 7, that God would raise up a descendent of King David whose throne would last for ever. And that is when he found himself shouting, trying to make himself heard above the din, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’
Now notice that? He didn’t shout ‘Jesus of Nazareth, heal me’, which is the name he had been given. But ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.' In what was nothing short of divine inspiration, this blind man could see what the others with 20/20 vision couldn’t see, namely, Jesus is the King whose primary characteristic is not to exercise political power but offer a royal pardon - mercy. All the difficulties and pains of this fallen world can be traced back in some way to the root problem, that as a race we have declared UDI against our rightful King and we need mercy from him. Not pity, not a sympathetic noise, but an act of royal forgiveness and restoration. And that is what we see in King David himself. He was so unlike all the other Near Eastern Kings of his day. For, once a King came to power the first thing he did was to purge all competition, which meant wiping out all relatives of the former King just in case they might decide on revenge, instigating a family feud. They tended to make the Mafia look like regular boy scouts. Not so David. What did he do? Well, he took Saul’s cripple grandson and offered a royal pardon, insisting that he sat at his own royal table with David - for ever being protected and provided for - his name was Mephibosheth and it is one of the most moving and compassionate stories in the whole of the OT. And maybe deep down in the consciousness of Bartimeaus that story had become lodged, giving rise to this hope and desperate plea that King David’s greater son, Jesus would have mercy on him of all people.'
Now Bartimaeus probably said much more than he actually knew - but he was much closer to the heart of Jesus’ Messiahship than anyone else in the crowd that day. For it was precisely in order to provide the means whereby we can all obtain the mercy that we need that Jesus resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem. He was going to celebrate the feast of the Passover alright, but by fulfilling it, for he was going to be the true Passover lamb to be slaughtered on the altar of the cross, so that he the innocent one should die for we the guilty ones, with his blood washing away our sin. So who better to cry out to for mercy than Jesus?
In a world racked with guilt, let me tell you this is very good news indeed. A few years ago in a television debate with a Christian, the atheistic humanist, Marghanita Laski made the most amazing confession. She said, ‘What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness.' The she added rather pathetically, ‘I have no one to forgive me.' Well, there is someone who can forgive you. You have skeletons in your cupboard as we all do, things which you would not want your best friends to know about, deeds and thoughts so shameful that to dwell on them would make you feel like the most down and out beggar alive. Well, you don’t have to live with that guilt, not really, because Jesus of Nazareth is passing by and you can call on him.
However, opposition is never very far away, however well intentioned, look at the rebuke which was ignored - v 48 ‘ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.'
We are not told why those in the crowd tried to silence him, but it is incredibly callous. Sure, they want to bask in Jesus presence, but they reflect nothing of his compassion. The very people which should be encouraging Bartimaeus to come to Jesus are the most determined to prevent him. Can you believe it? Sadly, it is still true today. Well meaning, well respectable Christians can be the greatest hindrance to the outsider coming to Christ. I think of one church which through the ministry of its young curate saw a tremendous influx of teenagers. But they weren’t from nice Christian homes, they were the one’s who tended to hang around the local shops at night and get into trouble with the police So they began to come along to the evening service, and understandably they were not used to the ‘proper’ way things were done. While not being unruly, they were more than a might fidgety. So after they had amazingly been coming along for a few weeks, hearing about the Lord Jesus, what should happen? One of the church wardens rounded on them and said ‘I don’t know why you bother coming - you don’t listen.' And that was a sound ‘evangelical’ church I am talking about. Well, I am glad that they decided to ignore that church warden as Bartimaeus ignored these people. The more they tried to bludgeon him into silence, to remember his proper place, the more he cried out. And it may well be that you have had a similar experience. The reason why you are more than a little wary of Christianity, is because you have had such a negative experience of Christians and to be frank, it has been very hard to take. Well, just because once having a bad teacher should not put you off learning for life, don’t let the ham fistedness of some Christians put you off coming to Jesus, in fact let it make you all the more determined to get it right, so that you become a consistent Christian. Take it as a challenge!
And so we come to the wonderful climax, a faith which is rewarded - vv 49 - 52. v49 ‘Jesus stopped and said ‘Call him.' Isn’t that striking? In the midst of all the noise, and the pressure to move on and get to Jerusalem, Jesus has time for this one man. He calls out to Jesus, and Jesus stops and calls him. Oh yes Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, but he is never too busy to stop for what we might call ‘the little people’, those the great and powerful might not even see because they are so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Just as King David had time in the midst of establishing his mighty kingdom to take care of poor, crippled Mephibosheth, David’s greater son has time for beggar Bartimaeus. And do you know what? He has time for you too. As risen ruler of the world, enthroned in glory, he still, as it were stops to hear your cries. Unlike the crowd he is not indifferent to your needs. You are not a nothing to him, but a someone and he calls you to come to him.
Which is precisely what Bartimaeus does - v49b - 50 ‘So they called the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet he is calling you’ (there is a sudden change of tune! ) Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.' No hesitation, the cloak, a symbol of his poverty, like a begging bowl, is thrown aside, and straight away he comes to Jesus. Let me say this: If you know that Jesus has been calling you, as you have been coming to church, as circumstances in your life have brought you to that point where you know you can’t go on alone, then whatever you do, don’t put off biting the bullet and turning to Christ. He isn’t going to turn you away, so what are you afraid of? You certainly can’t be worse off for coming to him, you ask folk here who are Christians, they will tell you. Follow the example of Bartimaeus.
v51 ‘ What do you want me to do for you? ’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said ‘Rabbi, I want to see.' - - - ’Go’ said Jesus, ‘Your faith has healed you.' Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.'
To the question ’What do you want me to do for you? ’, the man could have said, ‘Please give me some money.' That was a need, an immediate need. A felt need. And for a while he would have been happy with that. But he recognised his greatest need - blindness and that here was the only man who could meet it - Jesus. And we live in a society with the most appalling needs. As a nation we have been sickened by the news of yet another murder, this time a ten year old boy, possibly carried out by other children. What is our need then ? Better education? Better housing? Better policing? Surely, it is better hearts, new hearts which would not do such things. No politician is going to be able to provide them. There is no school I know which has the ability to effect such a transformation. But there is this man here - Jesus, the God man who for 2000 years throughout the world has been doing just that. Transforming lives, as he transformed this man’s life. Opening eyes, changing beggars into his followers. Just last week I was talking to someone in our own parish who just a few years ago was suicidal when I was asked to see her. She had been a heroin addict, tried prostitution, and almost destroyed her family, quite literally. Today, she is a Christian. She cried out to Jesus and he heard her. She realised what her greatest need was, and that was to be saved, put right with God so the rest of her life could start to be put right. And that it is with the whole person that Jesus is concerned and that our greatest need is spiritual is indicated by the phrase translated ‘Your faith has healed you’ The word is ‘sozo’ - saved you. Faith you see. Recognising who Jesus is. Trusting in what he can do and acting upon it. That is what becoming and being a Christian means. It is not just going along with the crowd and being associated with Jesus, singing our jolly choruses on the way to some religious festival or other. It is that personal, life - transforming encounter with Jesus and following him along the road, which eventually led to a cross and on the other side, the glory of the empty tomb. Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, even this morning, whatever you do, do not pass him by.
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