Monday, November 5, 2012

The King and the Teacher

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

The healing of blind Bartimaeus is a wonderful expression of the healing power of Christ.  It is a great proof text of Christ's divinity and salvation.  However, in these few verses lies a microcosm of the gospel.  This is a perfect study of our relationship with God, so let's really analyze this passage and treat it as a parable of our relationship with Jesus.

Obviously, we are Blind Bartimaeus, sitting on the side of the road in Jericho, probably shaking a cup for alms.  We may not be physically blind, but sin has blinded us to the truth.  We are unaware of reality.  Note that Jesus is on his way out of Jericho.  We only have a limited time before he is gone.  There is a sense of urgency here.

"When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth..."  Jesus is near!  We hear that he is near, and we hear from Christians.  Christians are to be the means of grace.  God is drawing us to him, yes, and he does so through the Holy Spirit, but the means of grace is other people!  We help each other come closer to God, through preaching the word or preaching our actions, our behavior.

Bartimaeus' response to the presence of Jesus is one of repentance.  He cries out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  This should be our initial response to the presence of Christ.  We have heard that the shortest prayer ever is "Help!" and that is true, but it may not be the best prayer.  The Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" also is a prayer for help, but it is also a prayer of repentance, which is crucial for establishing the relationship between us and the king.  Note the words "Son of David."  This is a call to Jesus the King, the King of Kings, the King of the World.  The king is the one who can forgive, to have mercy on us.  So, too, should we appeal to the king for mercy.

Notice what happens next: the world sternly orders us to be quiet.  "Don't repent!" the world chastises us.  "Where is your DIGNITY?  We bow to NO ONE! Do not submit!  We are Americans!"  This is ingrained in our noggins from birth.  This is the tidal wave of anti-God sentiment we have to break through.  But Bartimaeus cries out all the louder in repentance, and so should we.  "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Our relationship with Jesus is one of balanced response.  God is always previous.  He always initiates the relationship, as we see in this passage.  He has come to our Jericho, and we respond to his presence with repentance.  He then responds to our repentance with a call.  "Call him here," Jesus says.  And the Christians about us identify that call, and they encourage us to get to Jesus.  As Christians, we are to help our fellow men and women, who have repented, and encourage them by saying, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you."

Now this is interesting: In movies or our imaginations, we may see people gently guiding the blind man to the savior, because he is blind, you see.  But look at this sentence: "So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus."  This sounds like a call so strong that Blind Bartimaeus didn't need guidance.  He sprang up and made a bee-line to our Savior.  Often we hear about the reluctant convert.  Or that we were dragged into the faith kicking and screaming, but here is a good example of a proper response: one with energy, with vigor, and one that can make it right to our Savior's side, even when we are blind.

So we respond to the call with vigor, and Jesus responds to our response with a question: "What do you want me to do for you?"  Jesus knows the answer, but this is a test.  We can easily answer, "Well, I'd like a new car, and some supermodels, and a whole lot of money!  500 TV channels would be nice!  I know I can't see, but I like to listen to what's on."  Even something simple like "a new begging cup" is possible, but either way, we've failed the test.  The answer--the ONLY answer--is that we want to see again.  We are blind to reality, blind to the truth, and we want to see again.

Notice how Bartimaeus addresses Jesus now.  "My teacher, let me see again."  When we are repenting and desire mercy, we pray to the king.  When we ask to see again, we pray to the teacher.  The king is the one who bestows mercy.  The teacher is the one who can give sight to the blind.  Notice he does not say, "my healer," or, "my doctor."  That is a giveaway.  The historic account is of a physical healing, but the fact that Bartimaeus says, "teacher," proves that we are to look at this passage as applicable to our spiritual healing, to the restoration of our spiritual sight.

Only through Jesus' teaching do we lose our blindness to the truth.  Only through the teacher is our sight restored to reality.  Only through the study of God's word and discipleship are we in any kind of harmonious relationship with God.  And herein lies the problem with most modern churches today.  If there is ANY appeal to the king at all, if there is ANY call to repentance, then the relationship ends there.  Once the person has fallen to his or her knees and wept openly and committed to Christ: CONGRATULATIONS, YOU ARE ONE OF US NOW!  What about the followup?  You have plead for mercy from the king.  Where is the church now to say, "Take Heart!  Get up!  He is calling you?"  They aren't there.  The repentance is all there is.  Thank God we got the repentance at all.  Most churches don't even go there, or give it lip service only.  Now in the handful of churches that DO call for repentance, the forgiveness and the weeping comes, but then what?  Where is the "teacher, let me see?"

Either we don't get discipleship at all, or, instead of Jesus as teacher, we get the pastor as teacher, teaching a worldly discipleship.  Instead of going to the Word, we go to the stage.  We get Jerry Seinfeld: "what's up with hot dogs?  What's up with airport security?  What's up with cold cereal?"  Everlasting life is knowledge of God, and knowledge of God can be only gathered through his word, through the scriptures.  If I'm not preaching from this book, I'm doing it wrong.

First we appeal to the king for mercy, and then we appeal to the teacher for everlasting life, for knowledge of God, for sight.  Jesus responds, "Go; your faith has made you well."  We have repented, we have been called, we are learning from the teacher, and now we are called to go into our ministry.  Note that Bartimaeus not only regains his sight but follows Jesus on the way.  Is that a contradiction?  How can Bartimaeus GO and FOLLOW at the same time?  Well, it is the true and only path that we must take.  In order to go on our ministry, we have to be following Jesus constantly.  We cannot just drink from the living waters once.  Or weekly.  We must daily, hourly, drink from the living water.  We must daily, hourly, learn at the teacher's feet.  We must live in the Word in order to keep our sight.  God embraces us and keeps us in his teaching, but we respond to God as well.  Every day, we should be kneeling before the Lord and praying, "Son of David, have mercy."  Then, before we open this book, we pray, "Teacher, let me see."

All of that, all that relationship with Jesus Christ is found in those few verses about Blind Bartimaeus.  If we could only preach one passage for the rest of our lives, let that one be the one.  It contains the Gospel, it contains our relationship with God and how we respond to God's work in our lives. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  My teacher, let me see.