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As we conclude our series on Family Values we are reminded that we want every member of our family to value following Jesus.
It is said that if you lose one of your senses the other senses become keener to help compensate. Bartimaeus was blind but he made very good use of his sense of hearing. As he sat by the road and begged he must have listened carefully to what people were saying. He must have heard the name Jesus come up over and over again. He heard people talking about all the miracles Jesus was doing, healing every sickness and disease, casting out demons, even raising the dead. He heard people arguing about whether Jesus was the promised Messiah or not. He heard some argue that he couldn’t possibly be the Messiah because he did some of his miracles on the Sabbath, he was from Nazareth of all places, and their spiritual leaders said that he wasn’t. He heard others argue that he must be the Messiah because who else could do all the things Jesus was doing, he was doing even greater things than Moses. Maybe he even heard about some of the things Jesus had said, claiming the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in him and that he was the Good Shepherd who could give people the bread of life. As he thought about all the things that he had heard about Jesus, the Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart. He was convinced that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the promised Savior.
One day, as Passover was approaching and large crowds were passing through Jericho, past the place Bartimaeus was begging, he heard something exciting. He heard that Jesus was passing by. He was so excited that he couldn’t contain himself. He began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” People apparently felt that a blind beggar wasn’t worth Jesus’ time, so they told him to be quiet, but he kept shouting all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”
These words tell us a lot about what it means to follow Jesus.
First, Bartimaeus realizes that he needs mercy. It doesn’t seem that he was born blind because later he says that he wants to see again. Something had happened to cause his blindness. Whenever we are forced to face the fact that our body is failing and isn’t going to last forever, we are forced to think about eternity. Although Bartimaeus couldn’t see, he may have been reviewing scenes from his past life in his mind, being reminded of times he had sinned against God and others. Maybe some of those sins had even led to his blindness. But even if his blindness was caused by something beyond his control, he had come to realize one thing for sure. If he was going to be healed, and even more importantly, if he was going to end up in heaven, it wasn’t going to be because he deserved it. It would be only because of the mercy and grace of God.
Following Jesus means that we too admit that we deserve nothing from God but his wrath and punishment. Our only hope is to do what Bartimaeus did, to cry out to God for mercy.
When Bartimaeus started shouting and calling Jesus the Son of David, he was confessing the truth and people tried to silence him. Most were probably just annoyed at all the noise he was making, maybe thinking that Jesus wasn’t going to take notice of one lowly blind beggar. Some likely didn’t like what he was saying. Remember, it wouldn’t be many days in the future when the Jewish leaders would demand that Jesus tell those who were crying out Hosanna to the Son of David to be quiet. Some didn’t want anyone calling Jesus the Son of David, implying that he was the Messiah. But Bartimaeus showed what it means to follow Jesus by not only believing that Jesus was the Son of David but proclaiming it publicly even when others tried to silence him.
Each of us is like Bartimaeus in many ways. Each of us was born spiritually blind. But by the grace of God, we had people in our lives who talked with us about Jesus and who brought us to places where we could hear God’s powerful word, places like church and Sunday school. As we heard God’s word the Holy Spirit performed a miracle. He healed us of our spiritual blindness. He opened our eyes so that we could see our sins, and then see that Jesus is our savior. We once were blind, but now we see.
Like Bartimaeus, we get excited about Jesus. We want to call out his name. If we are in a situation where we need help, even if we are among people we don’t know, we call on Jesus to help us and to have mercy on us. But if you do that in our world today you are likely going to get what Bartimaeus got. People are going to tell you to keep quiet. They are going to make it clear that they will only tolerate you being a Christian as long as you remain quiet about it and keep your faith to yourself. They are only happy if Christians become like those in Laodicea, lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. But Jesus makes it clear that’s not really following him.
A value we want to develop in our families and in our church family is that we are willing to speak the truth about Jesus publicly, even if people keep telling us to keep quiet.
Would Jesus care about just one blind beggar? The majority didn’t think so. But Jesus stopped and said, “call him.” When they told him that Jesus had stopped and was calling for him, He tossed aside his outer garment, jumped up, and went to Jesus. How excited he must have been to have the opportunity to meet Jesus in person!
Then Jesus asked him, what do you want me to do for you? Everyone, including Jesus, knew what he would ask. What else would a blind man ask but to receive his sight? But Jesus was giving him an opportunity to show his faith, and he did. He said, Rabboni, I want to see again.
He called Jesus “Rabboni,” not Rabbi. He called him not just teacher, but MY teacher. In doing so he confessed his faith and his willingness, his desire to follow Jesus.
Those who follow Jesus don’t talk about him in the abstract. They don’t talk about him as just one of many great teachers. Those who follow Jesus confess that he is their teacher, the only teacher that matters. When everyone else is forsaking Jesus as their teacher, those who follow Jesus say with Peter, to whom should we go, you, only you Jesus, can teach me the way to eternal life.
Bartimaeus confessed publicly that Jesus was the Son of David, the promised Messiah. He refused to stop saying that even when the crowd tried to silence him. When he was brought to Jesus, he called him MY teacher. Then Jesus told him, “Go. Your faith has made you well.” Immediately he received his sight and began following Jesus.
Did you catch that? Jesus told him he could go. Go home, go back to your family. Go see the things that you had been unable to see since you lost your sight. Go back and grab the alms you left behind when I called for you. But he didn’t go. He began physically following Jesus on the road, the road that went up to Jerusalem. The road that Jesus was traveling for the last time.
Just think of what Bartimaeus was about to see now that he was no longer blind. He was about to see Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey with large crowds crying out what he had – Jesus Son of David!
He was about to see the great buildings on the temple mount and tens of thousands of people gathering to worship the one true God who promised to send a Savior.
He was about to see things he never dreamed he would see, never wanted to see. He was about to see the one he believed to be the Messiah, the one who had restored his sight by the power of his word, betrayed, arrested, and then nailed to a Roman cross. How he must have been tempted to stop following Jesus. Even his closest disciples had fled and were in hiding. What did Bartimaeus do?
We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t tell us if Bartimaeus continued to follow Jesus even during the events of Holy Week. Did his faith become lukewarm when he saw what happened to Jesus and realized what could happen to him if he continued to follow Jesus? Maybe. We know that there are times when our faith has become lukewarm even though we have not faced a situation where we thought our life would be in danger if we continued to follow Jesus. All too often we listen to the crowds and, instead of continuing to call Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, my teacher, my savior, we keep quiet. We think we can stay under the radar and follow Jesus quietly. We become lukewarm, and Jesus makes it clear that that’s not really following him.
We don’t know either if Bartimaeus saw the most amazing sight anyone could ever see. We don’t know if he was among the over 500 people that saw Jesus in his resurrected body after Easter. But the disciples did, even Peter who stopped following Jesus and denied even knowing him. And what did Jesus do to Peter when he appeared to him? Like Bartimaeus, he had mercy on him. He assured him of his forgiveness. He assured him that, as he continued to follow him in the future, he would be with him. He would never leave or forsake Peter, even though Peter had forsaken him.
Following Jesus. That’s a value we want to have instilled in our hearts and the hearts of all we love. None of us will follow him perfectly. There will be times when we become lukewarm, when we listen to the crowds and fail to confess him, even times when we might deny that we follow him. When we realize we have forsaken him we want to cry out like Bartimaeus, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. We want to know that, even though we are lowly beggars, Jesus will hear us. In his grace he will offer us the forgiveness he has won for us. And in the joy of our forgiveness, we will be even more determined to follow Jesus no matter what, until he leads us all the way to heaven.