Thursday, March 29, 2007

On The Road to Easter

Can You Hear Him Call?
A Sermon from Mark 10:46-52

Although it is truly the path to abundant living, the way of Christ is difficult.

Traveling heavenward requires a different mind than the way of the world. It is a life marked by service and humility, not greatness and control. This is a hard message to hear for modern day followers of Christ. Jesus would indeed have us experience a vibrant, wonderful life, but first he beckons us to follow him to the cross and die to ourselves so that we can take hold of the new life he offers.

The Season of Lent is coming to a close, we are on the Road to Easter. As we examine one of Jesus' final encounters and miracles before his death, let us ask the timely question, "Can you hear Jesus calling you?"

The Story

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. He had told his disciples repeatedly that his purpose for this trip was to die. The religious leaders would beat him, mock him, and hand him over to the gentile leaders of Rome to be crucified. Then three days later he would rise from the dead.

The disciples, however, did not understand. They couldn't see why Jesus had to die. Within a few weeks they would for they were almost at the end of road to Easter. When they came to Jericho they were within 15 miles of the City of Jerusalem, within 15 miles of the climax of history.

Jericho was the welcome center of Judea, especially during the Passover celebration. Religious pilgrims on their way from across the Jordan to the City of David stopped at Jericho before completing their trip.

Now a large crowd had gathered to wish these travelers well. Many of them joined Jesus on his way. It was the custom back then to follow along with a teacher, or rabbi, who then used the occasion to teach. So in all likelihood Jesus was teaching the multitude as he walked up the road.

"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, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging." (Mark 10:46)

This man somehow had lost his sight; he was not blind from birth. But, because of his blindness, he could no longer work for a living and had to depend on the charity of passersby. When he heard that the messiah was near, Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, pity me."

The term "Son of David" is a title that refers to the messiah, the anointed one of God to rule over Israel. Many people pictured the messiah as a conquering king who was going to over throw the Roman forces currently occupying Israel. This, of course, was not the mantle Jesus would don. He came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. The crowds, however, thought of Jesus as a king.

Bartimaeus wasn't any different. He considered Jesus to be the messiah, the conquering one, but he also had an important personal need, which maybe the king would take time to meet. So when the messiah came close he said simply, "Pity me, have mercy on me." He was blind, but he could see with the eyes of faith that Jesus could help him. We're like that to a certain degree. We might not have the full picture of who Jesus is, and may even misunderstand his purpose as messiah, but we know he can help us in our need. He's a king, but he's loving and kind.

"Pity me," was all he asked. It was a beggar's call, really. Maybe Bartimaeus only wanted some money with which to buy bread. So he cried out loud for Jesus' attention. To the crowd, though, it was an interruption. Jesus was teaching after all. He couldn't stop in the middle of an important lesson to toss a few coins to a beggar.

Those near him said, "Hush up, blind beggar." How sad, for it sounds like us at times. Do we, without thinking, tell others who are crying out for God to hush up because they aren't going about it the way we would? Some times people are turned off from the church and from God because of our attitude toward them. How tragic that is.

Fortunately, Bartimaeus paid no attention to the crowd and he shouted out all the more. He was determined that Jesus should hear him. And what does Jesus do? He stops. The parade comes to an abrupt halt. And Jesus says to those near, "Call him."

You know, Jesus specializes in the art of stopping. He doesn't minister on the run. He stops, serves, and through his actions says, "You count. You're important."

The same is true today, friends. Jesus is always willing to stop and serve. Are we? With our busy lives it's hard to stop and live and love one another with our actions. After all, we have a schedule to keep. We rush here and there all because of our schedule. Maybe we should take a course from Jesus in the art of stopping.

Once Jesus stops and calls for Bartimaeus the crowd suddenly becomes happy for the man. "Cheer up," they say, "he's heard you! Up on your feet, do you hear him calling? Go to him." Now that's the right kind of attitude to have. Encouraging others to listen for Jesus' voice and then encouraging them respond to him.

If only we realized that every person we meet is a man or woman for whom Jesus died and is now calling. We would never tell people to "hush up" by our words or attitudes. Instead, we would share with them unabashedly the good news that they count, that they matter to God, and that Jesus is calling their name.

What do you think our non-Christian friends and family members would say to that? I think they'd respond. Maybe even respond like Bartimaeus did. Back to the story, the Gospel writer Mark uses some very descriptive words here; it's action packed and full of energy. "Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus."

Can you imagine? A blind man throwing his only possession away. The cloak in that day and age served not only as an outer garment by day, but as a blanket by night. It was a valuable item. So important was it that the law stated a cloak could not be taken away from a person, even if that person literally owed you the shirt off their back.

But that's what happens when we come to Christ. We suddenly realize that nothing compares to a relationship with the Son of God. All worldly possessions pale in value when set along side the love Christ has for us. If we could let that truth grip us we too would jump up and rush to Christ. So often we like to look before we leap. But when Christ is calling, that is the time to respond. Leap up, friends, and run to Christ.

Bartimaeus is probably bursting with excitement and expectation. Still, he doesn't demand anything from Christ. Rather, he waits to receive what Jesus has to offer. We discover that Jesus initiates the conversation. "What do you want me to do for you?"

It's practically the same question Jesus asked his disciples James and John earlier on this road to Easter (see Mark 10.35-45). But there is an obvious difference in the context. The two brothers have a preset specific request for self-aggrandizement. Bartimaeus simple asks for pity. I don't believe he has a preset agenda. Yet when Jesus asked how he should take pity on him, Bartimaeus is honest and to the point.

The blind man says, "My teacher, oh, to regain my sight." Bartimaeus is specific, but he realizes that any answer from Christ is a gift of grace and can not be earned.

Compare that with how James and John approach Jesus. The two brothers simply call Jesus "teacher," then they lay our their request. Bartimaeus, on the other hand, calls him, "my teacher, my lord." Even though he was blind, he could see that Jesus could not be manipulated.

Stands in stark contrast with the attitude of James and John, doesn't it? It's interesting, but these two opposite requests exemplify the types of prayers we often bring to God. Don't we, at times, want God to answer some preset selfish plea? We treat God like a Service Merchandise store. You know how it works. Type your order into a computer and then wait at the conveyor belt for it to come down from the warehouse.

Why not enter into prayer with a little bit more humility like Bartimaeus. We know God is gracious and merciful. Bank on that and then when you hear the Spirit ask, "What do you want me to do for you?" tell him. Share your heart's desire. But at the same time, acknowledge that God is sovereign, all seeing, all knowing, all loving, all wise. God knows what is best for us.

That's what faith is, trusting God to give us his best. And what we'll find is that our faith will make us well. That's what Jesus told Bartimaeus. "Go, your faith has made you well." And immediately he regained his sight. But instead of going his merry way, Bartimaeus becomes a disciple, a follower of Jesus. All because he heard Jesus calling him and responded with faith.

Can you hear Jesus calling you? Will you respond and regain your sight? Or will you remain in the dark, like James and John were during their exchange with Jesus, unaware of all the great gifts God has to offer you as his child?

One fascinating aspect of this story is that it is the second miracle recorded by Mark where a blind person is healed. Jesus' first encounter with a blind man is found in Mark 8:22-26. These two stories serve as bookends for Jesus' thrice repeated message about having to die. But unlike the two blind people who were given sight, the disciples still couldn't see the truth.

And because they couldn't understand, they weren't listening for their savior's voice. Folks, let us understand, let us know, let us see Jesus for who he really is. Then let us listen carefully for his voice. Jesus is calling, he wants to heal your hurts, cleanse you from sin, and restore you to wholeness. Leap to your feet today and come to him. Follow him down the road to Easter.