Encountering Jesus (3)
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 1/18/2015
The past few weeks, we’ve been talking about change. Change doesn’t always come easy for us. As the old saying goes, “A leopard can’t change his spots.” But I disagree. Where did we get the idea that we can’t change? From whence come statements like “It’s just my nature to worry,” or “I’ll always be pessimistic. I’m just that way,” or “I have a bad temper. I can’t help it. I’m a red-head.” Would we make similar statements about our bodies? “It’s just in my nature to have a broken leg. There’s nothing I can do about it.” Of course, not. If our bodies malfunction, we seek help. Can’t do the same with our hearts? God wants to transform each of us in some pretty dramatic ways. He wants us to have a heart like his. But we can’t transplant our own hearts any more than we can remove our own appendix. New Year's resolutions, willpower, and best intentions are not enough. What we need is an encounter with Jesus!
I heard a humorous testimony this week. A recent convert was asked to share her testimony in church about the difference accepting Jesus had made in her life. She nervously walked up to the pulpit and declared, “I’m so glad I got saved. Jesus has really turned my heart around. For example, I have an uncle I used to hate so much I vowed I’d never go to his funeral. But then I met Jesus, and now I just can’t wait to go to his funeral!”
The truth is—Jesus does change our hearts and lives. People who have encountered Jesus in very real ways are seldom the same afterward. Jesus changes everything. This morning we’re going to read about two men who know all about that. Let me invite you to read a short story from Matthew 20 with me.
As Jesus and the disciples left the town of Jericho, a large crowd followed behind. Two blind men were sitting beside the road. When they heard that Jesus was coming that way, they began shouting, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
“Be quiet!” the crowd yelled at them. But they only shouted louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” When Jesus heard them, he stopped and called, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord,” they said, “we want to see!” Jesus felt sorry for them and touched their eyes. Instantly they could see! Then they followed him. (Matthew 20:29-34 NLT)
Mark’s version of this story identifies one of these beggars by name, Bartimaeus. The region was known for producing an ointment useful for treating eye defects, so it isn’t surprising to find two blind men along the road begging for money or bread. Needy people standing on street corners, holding signs that say hungry or homeless isn’t a 20th century invention. This is probably how they spent nearly every day. Can you imagine what life was like for them? Imagine being totally sightless for who knows how many years. They lacked the modern treatments and accommodations that allow blind people today to live productive lives, so they were forced to just sit by the road begging for help, day in and day out. Most people ignored them. They’re some else’s problem, passersby thought. But not Jesus. Bartimaeus and his buddy had their world turned completely upside down by their encounter with Jesus.
I want to highlight three important elements to their story. Maybe you can identify with some of them. First, I want to draw your attention to the crowd.
• THE CROWD
Jericho was the home of Jesus’ ancestor, Rahab, and was just a day’s journey from Jerusalem. The air was filled with excitement about the Jesus as the multitudes gathered, making pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. Jesus and his entourage were on their way to Jerusalem for his Triumphal entry. People were singing his praises and clamoring just to get a glimpse of his face. There was a lot more traffic than Bartimaeus was accustom to. When he heard the noise of the crowd, he asked what was happening and, the Bible says, “The people told him that Jesus from Nazareth was passing by” (Luke 18:37 GWT). I can just see the excitement on Batrimaeus’s face when he heard the name Jesus. And as soon as he heard it, he started shouting. But the Bible says, “The crowd scolded them and told them to be quiet” (Matthew 20:31 GNT).
Why would they do that? Try to put yourself in the moment. The crowd was filled with enthusiasm as they followed Jesus into the city. They didn’t want anything to interrupt their perfect little procession. Their motives may have varied. Maybe they thought Jesus was too important to be bothered with rabble, like Bartimaeus and his companion. Maybe they figured the beggars would just ask for money, hoping to take advantage of Jesus’s celebrity status. Whatever their reasons, they rebuked the blind men who were crying out for help. Sadly, the crowd following Jesus is often the biggest roadblock to others crying out to Him for mercy.
I’m reminded of a song by Casting Crowns titled If We Are The Body. The song describes two scenarios. First is a girl who slips into a crowded worship service, just hoping to blend in. Instead she’s teased and laughed at by some girls a few rows away. The other is a traveler far away from home, who sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row. But rather than being greeted and welcomed by the congregation, he feels the the weight of their judgmental glances and decides he’s better off on the road. Front man, Mark Hall, explained in an interview, “If We Are The Body addresses a problem I've seen in churches all over - that churches are a lot like a circle. Circles are great if you're in the circle, but most people find themselves outside that circle for whatever reason. There's not a sign on the door but you get the feeling they've got everybody they need. You're welcome to come, but you're not really ever going to be part of the circle and that's certainly not what the Bible teaches.”
Mark’s not the only person to notice this problem. In 2009, Dan Merchant filmed a documentary about how the church is perceived by non-Christians titled Lord, Save Us from Your Followers. In it, Dan hits the streets—clad in a jumpsuit plastered with wildly contradicting bumper stickers—to find out what a bunch of ordinary citizens think about Christianity and Jesus. The recurring theme is that Christians are "hypocritical" and "snobby," but Jesus—well, he's cool. So the church, by not being Christ-like, is actually an obstacle for people who may be open to Christ himself.
As someone once said, “The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus by their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
And that’s exactly what the crowd following Jesus through Jericho was doing. They wanted to bask in Jesus’s glory but not practice his compassion. I’m here to tell you that if you like Christ, then you need to become Christ-like. Otherwise, you’ll just end up driving people away from Jesus. Thankfully, Bartimaeus and his buddy didn’t let the crowd dissuade them. They kept shouting all the louder to get Jesus’s attention, which brings us to next important element in their story—the confession.
• THE CONFESSION
Jericho was one of the wealthier cities of the region and as a result attracted both beggars and robbers. So cries for help were common place on these streets. But it isn’t just that these blind men were shouting for help that’s important; it’s who they were shouting for that’s important. Although the crowd tried shutting them up, the Bible says, “They shouted even louder, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’” (Matthew 20:31 NLT).
Son of David was a Messianic title because the Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would come from the lineage of David. These two men, though blind, saw Jesus as both Lord and Savior. They understood that the Messianic Age was to be one in which the blind would receive sight (cf. Is. 35:5, 6). Their cry for mercy was a confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ. The rebuke of the crowds just served to test the faith of these men. So when they cried out again, it demonstrated the firmness of their faith. They made a true confession of faith in Jesus in the face of opposition. “Have mercy” was the typical cry of the beggar. It was a confession of lowliness, dependence, and poverty. Other people could offer them money or even kindness, but they knew that only Jesus could affect lasting change in their lives.
I heard this joke earlier this week. A man walks into a dentist’s office and says, “Excuse me, can you help me. I think I’m a moth.” The dentist replied “You don’t need a dentist. You need a psychiatrist. His office is just next door.”
“Yes, I know.” Says, the man. “So, why did you come in here?” asked the dentist. The guy replies, “Because the light was on…”
I know it’s really dumb joke, but we often make the same mistake. What this guy needed was a psychiatrist, where he went was a dentist. Jesus is the Great Physician. Every single one of us suffers from spiritual blindness, a sin sickness, a disease of the soul. The symptoms vary from person to person—snarling tempers, waves of worry, growing guilt and fear, immorality, impatience, insecurity, broken hearts, broken homes, hopelessness. The list goes on. But whatever your symptoms are, Jesus is the cure. Unfortunately we fail to turn to him all too often. Instead we reach for the latest self-help book, or turn to Dr. Phil, or just try sorting through stuff on our own. Despite their blindness, these beggars could see clearly enough to recognize Jesus for who he really is and they had the insight to know that Jesus was the one to turn to in their desperation.
I think Jesus loves encountering people like these blind men. People who are willing to confess their spiritual blindness and a need for mercy. People who recognize him as Lord and Savior and cry out to him in their times of desperation. No matter what’s going on in your life, if you will cry out to Jesus for mercy and grace he’ll hear you. And you’ll experience his compassion.
• THE COMPASSION
That’s the last element of this story that I want to underscore—the compassion of Jesus. Jesus does several things for these two men that he still does for us. Let me highlight a few of them.
First, Jesus stops and stands still. The Bible says, “When Jesus heard them, he stopped” (Matthew 20:32 NLT). Jesus is an important man with places to go and people to see. He’s on his way to Jerusalem for the most the main event! Yet the cries to two blind beggars stopped him in his tracks. Jesus stops. He stands still. And he listens to their pleas. He still does.
The book Revelation describes a scene in heaven. Up until now heaven was full of noise—the songs of a thousand angels singing “worthy is the Lamb,” the sound of the four living beings chanting, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the shouting of worshippers clad in white robes, and even the voice of God himself which John says sounds like mighty trumpet. But then we turn the page and we read this: “Suddenly, there was silence throughout all heaven for what seemed like half an hour… Then another angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God’s people as an offering on the gold altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God” (Revelation 8:1-4 TLB). This puzzling scene underscores a simple truth. There is one sound in heaven that trumps all others. One sound that causes God to say, “Shush, I hear something.” It’s the sound of God’s people praying. When you cry out to Jesus, all of heaven is silent.
But Jesus not only stopped and listened; he also responded. “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32) Jesus asked. Wouldn’t you love for Jesus to ask that same question of you? He has. Jesus once told his disciples, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14 NIV). Jesus invites us to tell him what we want. Of course, there’s a catch. We have to ask in his name. And that doesn’t mean slapping the words “in Jesus name we pray” on the hind-end of your prayer, like a bumper sticker. Jesus’s name represents his authority and character. Requests that are selfish, shortsighted, or even sinful will always be answered—No. But prayers that line up with the nature and character of Jesus, those are prayer he loves to answer.
Next, the Bible says, “Jesus had compassion on them” (Matthew 20:34 NIV). The word compassion originally indicated the moving of the inner parts of the body, like your stomach turning. In other words, Jesus moved deeply. He cared. We live in a world of hurting people. Americans buy over 3,000,000,000 Tylenol® each year. Jesus knows every headache. There were 844,000 divorces in the United States last year. Jesus knows every heart-ache. He knows and he cares. Jesus aches with you and for you. He has compassion on you in your need and pain.
Finally, the Bible says, “Jesus… touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight” (Matthew 20:34 NIV). Jesus could have healed them from a distance. He’d done it before. But instead, Jesus reached out to them and touched them. He made a personal, intimate connection with each of these men. I can’t think of a single person in Scripture that was touched by Jesus and remained unchanged. I think that’s the kind of relationship Jesus wants with each of us. He longs to connect with us, to touch us, to heal us, and change us.
Bartimaeus and his buddy were blind beggars looking for handouts on the dry dusty streets of Jericho until they met Jesus. But after an encounter with him, they would never be the same. Not only did Jesus restore their sight, but he gave them new purpose and meaning in life. The Bible says that they immediately got up and followed Jesus. I’d like to think that they didn’t just follow him into town; rather, they followed him for the rest of their lives and, eventually, into eternity.
We’re not much different from Bartimaeus. Spiritually speaking, we’re just as blind and destitute as he was. But if we will cry out in faith, as they did, we too can experience a life-changing encounter with Jesus.
Fanny Crosby once wrote forgotten a hymn based on this story: “Son of David! Hear my cry; Savior, do not pass me by; Touch these eyelids veiled in night, Turn their darkness into light.” I want to encourage you to let that song be your prayer today.
If your heart is ready for an encounter with Jesus, he’s ready to meet you. If I can help you, then come forward while we stand and sing.