(We have a missions speaker this week, October 14, 2007, so I’m not preaching Sunday. Here’s a sermon I enjoyed preaching last year on the story of blind Bartimaeus.) Jesus, Help! mp3
The Story of A Blind Man
This is a story that is familiar to those of us who grew up in Sunday School. The story of “Blind Bartimaeus” is what my Primary teacher called it. It’s the story of a man who was reduced to begging because he was blind. Unlike our day, in the first century blindness meant you could no longer go about your trade. A blind shepherd could not look for sheep; a blind shopkeeper could not manage his wares; a blind carpenter was a danger to himself and those around him; a blind farmer could not plant, nurture his crop or see when it was ready for harvest. No guide dogs for the blind, no books on tape, no institutions for those who are visually-impaired. Blindness was a sentence of destitution and hopelessness.
Plus, this man had undoubtedly been able to see at one time. So, we only have to speculate that disease or accident left him blinded. He once had seen the sun rise over the Judean hills. He once had looked at the face of his wife, the love of his life. He once had watched his children playing outside the family’s home. All he had now were memories – memories of colors that were fading, images that seemed to dissolve from his mind with the passing of time.
Whatever the cause of his blindness or its duration, he still had some fire in his heart. And, in order to support himself and his family, he would cry out,
“A penny for a blind man.”
“Help a blindman for once I could see just like you.”
“I know you can see me – help me or this fate might be yours also.’
He wasn’t shy. He still tried to keep up with the local gossip, even though people walked around him, and acted as though he were invisible himself. But, he overheard their conversations. “It’s amazing,” he thought, “I’m blind but people talk around me as though I were deaf, too!” So, he kept up with the local gossip, news, and rumors just by sitting in the same spot everyday and listening as people passed by.
One day there seemed to be an unusual amount of commotion. Bartimaeus heard the plop of feet as the slapped the dusty ground around him. He heard shouts of “He’ll be coming by here soon,” from those rushing by. One person said the name, “Jesus” – a common name, but he had heard about a Jesus from Nazareth, a teacher. But not just a teacher. A man who had miraculous powers. He heard that this Jesus had made a deaf man hear, and a lame man walk, and had fed thousands of people. But, he also heard that this Jesus had made a bunch of people mad – primarily the religious leaders. But, “who cares about them,” Bartimaeus thought, “they pass me by saying their prayers loudly and never drop so much as a penny in my cup.” And he thought, “Anybody who can stand up to the Pharisees is all right by me!”
But, apparently Jesus was coming and Bartimaeus now sensed that he was close. He heard people call out, “Jesus, over here.” “Jesus, where are you going?” “Jesus, feed my family like you fed that other crowd.” Laughter and shouts rang out and Bartimaeus could tell the crowd was getting near, so he shouted out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” And he yelled it out again, “Jesus, help me!”
Then, something happened. The shouting stopped and the crowd got quiet. Bartimaeus heard a voice – a kind, strong voice say, “Come here.”
Instantly people in the crowd were grabbing at Bartimaeus. “It’s your lucky day,” one man said, “Jesus wants to see you.” Someone grabbed his arm, but he couldn’t get up because somebody was standing on his cloak. Bartimaeus quickly shrugged off his cloak and jumped to his feet.
With outstretched arms he searched in the air in front of him, taking cautious steps forward in the direction of The Voice.
In a moment, he knew he was close to Jesus, and Bartimaeus stopped. Jesus asked, “What do you want?”
“What do I want?” thought Bartimaeus. “I want to see my wife and children. I want to see the sunrise again. I want to see my own face in a mirror. I want to see the flowers blooming on the hillside in spring. I want to see the fruit, and flowers and fabric in the market place and drink in all those colors like they were cool water on a hot day. I want to see, again!”
And so Bartimaeus heard a voice that sounded like his saying, “I want to see, again.”
He wasn’t sure what happened next because time seemed to speed up and stand still all at once. And then he heard Jesus say, “Your faith has healed you.” And, slowly the blackness behind his eyes began to turn grey and then light seemed to burst into his eyes. Bartimaeus blinked and he couldn’t believe it. There were things in front of him. He turned his head to the side. He could see the crowd staring at him, in quiet curiosity.
He said quietly at first, “I can see.” Then louder, “I can see.” Until all he could do was run from person to person, grabbing them by the shoulders saying, “I can see you.”
Jesus just stood there smiling. He motioned to those around him, turned and began to walk down the road. Bartimaeus didn’t notice at first because he was still drinking in the faces of friends he hadn’t seen in a long time. But, then, searching the crowd for Jesus, he caught a glimpse of the back of his robe, moving away from him down the dusty lane.
Quickly Bartimaeus pushed through the crowd. To pats on the back, and shouts of “Can you see me now, Bartimaeus?” Bartimaeus elbowed his way through the clutch of people around him. Once free of the crowd, he called out, “Jesus, wait for me.” And that day Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way.
So, what does this story mean for us? We can see, at least physically. But, Bartimaeus got his sight twice that day – physically and spiritually.
Taking Our Eye Exam
So, let’s do our own eye exam today. There are no eye charts, just a couple of questions we need to ask ourselves.
First, are we blind? Bartimaeus knew he was blind, at least physically. He knew he couldn’t see his wife and family, his friends, his house, his town. But, it wasn’t until Jesus healed him that he realized he had been spiritually blind, too. And in an instant he got his spiritual eyesight restored. Once Bartimaeus saw Jesus, he saw the answer to all life’s questions. Once Bartimaeus saw Jesus, he really saw his need. Not just a need for sight, but a need for life.
Some of us here today have better eyesight than others. Some of us see very clearly, others wth the help of glasses, bifocals, trifocals, and even contact lenses. But, are we blind in other ways?
The worst kind of blindness is only seeing yourself. For Bartimaeus, that was a problem. He was so focused on his blindness, that all he could see was himself. His limitations, the things he had lost, the unfairness of life to him. It was all about Bartimaeus. Until he could see. And then when he could see, he saw Jesus. Bartimaeus realized that it was all about God, not him. That the God who made him, loved him. That the God who loved him had the power and the will to help him. That the God who loved him and helped him was the only thing that mattered. If he could see God, Bartimaeus could see anything.
So, when he saw Jesus, he saw clearly for the first time in his life.
What are we blind to? Maybe like Bartimaeus, we don’t see the people around us. Oh, we see them physically, but we really don’t see them. We don’t see them like Jesus sees them.
People were always turning a blind eye to others around Jesus. The disciples were really blind – they didn’t want to see hungry people when Jesus said for them to feed the crowd. They said, “Let’s get them out of our sight, let’s send them home.”
They didn’t want to see little children, until Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me. I want to see them.”
They didn’t want to see the poor, or the sick or the lepers, until Jesus said, “These are like sheep without a shepherd. Watch over them.”
Who do we need to see? The kids who come to the boys and girls club each day. Some of them came to bible school. Some of the older kids come up at 6 PM and eat with us on Wednesdays. Why? Because in one of their homes, the father is in jail across the street here for beating up his mother. Because this young man had rather be any place than the apartment he lives in with his family who abuse drugs and alcohol. Another young man doesn’t have a father around. He lives with his mother out in the country, unless he’s staying with his grandmother here in town. He has no place to go, nothing to do. Gregg, our director, is mentoring him to become a leader among the kids each day.
Who do we need to see? Do we need to see the inmates that the Good News Jail ministry offers Bible study and friendship to? Do we need to see the adults here in our community who can’t read or write that Karen is teaching how to read and write?.
Do we need to see our neighbors who have no church family? Do we need to see the kids who come to Soundcheck each month – kids with so much talent and ability and no outlet for it? Do we need to see the teenagers who on their own requested a drama club that we’re hosting here. Who do we need to see with the eyes of Jesus?
Like Bartimaeus, most of us have seen before. We’ve lost our sight for reasons we don’t even understand now. We got busy, we got involved in other things, we lost sight of the plan of God for us the people of God.
The second question we have to ask ourselves is, Do we want to see, again? Bartimaeus did. He knew he was blind, he knew what it was like to see, and he wanted to see again.
Do you remember when you first saw Jesus? I mean saw him in such a way that you said Yes, to him. Do you remember how tender your heart was and how happy you were to come to church?
Do you know what revival is? Revival is a new vision of God. We need that. We need to really see Jesus. Because if we really see Jesus – really see his love, really see the kindness in his touch, really feel the warm of him close, really see what he did for us – if we really see Jesus, then we’ll follow him. Just like Bartimaeus. We’ll follow him.
How could you not follow Jesus when you really see him as the Lord of creation? How could you not follow Jesus when you really see him as the friend who gave his life for you? How could you not follow Jesus when you really see what he’s up to – that he’s bringing the new age of the kingdom of God to this world. It’s already begun, and when you really see that, you want to get in on it.
What’s Keeping You From Jesus?
But there is one very small but important detail in this story. Mark, who doesn’t use extra words in his story of Jesus life, writes that Bartimaeus threw off his cloak to jump up and get to Jesus. I imagined in my retelling of the story that maybe someone was standing on his cloak, and Bartimaeus had to slip out of it to get up and get to Jesus.
Well, we don’t really know why he threw off his cloak, but somehow in Bartimaeus mind, that cloak was keeping him from Jesus. So, he took it off. No, he threw it off. He was getting rid of the cloak without hesitation or question. Why? He didn’t want anything to stop him from getting to Jesus.
So, that’s the final question. What’s keeping you from Jesus today? From getting to him so that you can really see him? Is your cloak your schedule – you’re just too busy? Is it something you don’t want to give up, so you had just rather stay blind? Is your cloak your own comfort level – “well at least I know what being blind is like. It may not be great, but I can’t remember what it’s like to really see.”
Until we as a church realize we are blind, and really want to see Jesus, we’re going to continue to struggle. Do we really want to see? Because regaining our spiritual sight means we’ll follow Jesus.
Close your eyes now. See the darkness. Ask yourself, Do I want to stay blind? Or do I really want to see again? Kim’s going to sing, “Open Our Eyes Lord” while we pray. If you want to come and pray with me that we’ll see Jesus in new ways and follow him, I’m here. Let’s pray.