(Holding dirty coat in hands; speaks as if to a person who has brought him the old coat)
Man, where’d you find this thing? C’mon, where’d you get it? I never thought I’d see this old thing again! You think I’ve got a use for it now? Man, it’s old and ratty and dirty; I don’t know that I’ll ever need this again, I tell you. Say what? You heard there’s a story in this coat…well, yeah, I guess so. Sit down, man, cause you ain’t gonna believe this one, but you’re right, there is a story, all right, there is a story.
Can you imagine what it’s like to be blind, man? I mean, I couldn’t see nothin. Nothin. I couldn’t even imagine what stuff looked like; I was born that way, you know? Darkness all my life. I couldn’t do nothin without someone helping me. I mean, you learn some things, you learn how to get around a little, but you just depend on other people for so much—and a lot of people, I mean a lot of people, man, they just don’t care, they don’t care. You’re just in the way…that’s the way I felt all my life, just in the way, just takin’ up space, man, just playin out the string, you know what I mean?
I couldn’t work a job; I couldn’t see. You know what that does to a man? You know what it does to his pride, man? It trashes it, you know? You don’t earn nothin, man, nothin. All you get is what people give you. So I begged. It was humiliating, man, it was as bad as being blind, having to beg, having to sit there every day in the hot sun and call out to people walking down the street, people you can’t even see, who might be mocking you even as they drop something in your cup. I sat there every day on the side of the road, sweaty and grimy with the nasty dust kicked up in my face, and the stinking animals…well, I don’t want to go there, man.
So anyway, one day I’m sitting there just like every other day, hoping that somebody will have a little pity in their heart and drop a few pennies in my cup, right? I hear this commotion in the distance, it sounds like a crowd coming my way, so I says to my buddy Ralphamiah, “what you think that is, bro?” And he says, “man, I don’t know, but I hope I don’t get trampled here. And then somebody screams out a name: Jesus. Jesus! Man, I’d heard of this guy, I’d heard He was like a miracle worker or something. You gotta be kiddin me, he’s coming this way? And all of a sudden, I says to my buddy, “you thinking what I’m thinking?” And he says, “no”, like the dumb lunk he is, you know? I says, “hey, man, this is our chance, buddy!” I figure I gotta go for it, you know? I mean, if this guy really is some kind of magic worker, well, maybe He can do something for me, right? So I just start screamin, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Well, all these people got ugly real fast. “Shut up, you stupid idiot! Shut up!”, they said, but I don’t care now, you know, I just scream louder, “Son of David, Jesus, man, come help me, come help me!” What have I got to lose, I figure, right? What’s the worst that can happen, huh? Sometimes in a man’s life he’s just got to go for it, right?
And then all of a sudden, there’s a hush over the crowd, and I hear the procession stop, right, like right in front of me, and some guy says, “hey, you, blind guy, get up and come here; Jesus wants you!” Man, he didn’t have to ask twice, you know what I mean? Man, I’m up like a shot, and I follow the sounds over to where I figure Jesus is, and He stops me and says, “What do you want me to do for you?” Man, that was the easiest question anybody had ever asked me, and I’m thinking, buddy, if you can do for me what I want done, I will follow you to the end of the earth, you know?
“Teacher, I want to see!” I said. And just like that, there’s no hocus-pocus, no alakazam, just “Go, your faith has healed you”, and when he said that, POW, my eyes opened, and the very first thing I saw in my whole life, man, was the face of Jesus. Man, that was cool. And then I remembered what I’d said to myself earlier: if a man could just give me my sight, I’d follow him anywhere. So that’s what I did.
And this old coat? I never thought about it again, just left it there in the dust. Once you see Jesus for the first time, man, you don’t need the old stuff anymore, you know?
(For effect, leave the coat visible during entire message; during the course of the five-week series, I allowed the different articles--one each week--which accompanied the monologue, to accumulate in a prominent place, serving as visual reminders of where we’d been)
Today, we begin a short series in a different style, I suppose than that to which you are accustomed. I want to look, for the next few weeks, at the lives of some people who were eyewitnesses of Jesus, His life, ministry, death, and resurrection. I want to look at their stories, as stories. I’m not as concerned for this series that we follow a strict outline as that we try as best we can to recapture what it must have been like to live and walk with Jesus. There is a note sheet in your bulletin; keep it handy, if you’ve gotten into the good habit of jotting down notes, that you might write down your impressions and insights. But most importantly, try to walk alongside Jesus as we see Him through the eyes of Witnesses. Would you stand with me as we read Mark’s account today from Mark 10:46-52?
I wonder, as he awakened that morning, if Bartimaeus thought there to be anything unusual about this day? I doubt it; it likely dawned like any other; he was likely awakened by the early-morning noise of the city of Jericho. A farmer driving his animals; a merchant setting up his display of wares; children getting an early start on a day of play. Bartimaeus clutched his ever-present coat around himself and struggled to his feet. His makeshift living quarters provided him shelter and little else. With matted hair and unshaven face, this unkempt, blind beggar began to make his way to “Beggar’s Row” at the end of town. Maybe he stopped to beg a bit of stale bread from a sympathetic shopkeeper, but he went his way, hardly noticed amid the bustle of the city.
Most of those who did see him diverted their attention away from him quickly. Beggars were a public nuisance, they thought; somebody ought to do something! Those who could see took their eyesight for granted, and most didn’t want to be bothered, safe in their comfortable worlds. It is difficult for the sighted to fathom the handicap of blindness; it is difficult for we the rich to fathom what grinding poverty must be like. He lived a life of surviving on charity, on people’s leftovers. Bartimaeus had two strikes against him to begin with. Add to this the fact that he hardly had his own identity even; the prefix “Bar” means “son of”. He was identified as the son of another—“that’s Timaeus’ son, the blind kid”. He experienced little joy in life, little success, little peace. His daily goal was survival; is merely surviving really living? Not according to Jesus, Who said, “I came that they might have life more abundantly.”
And so he sat. There was certainly nothing unusual about a blind man begging! But maybe, when Bartimaeus awakened on this day, he did anticipate something different. Passover was coming, and the crowds in the streets would be larger—maybe this would be a more profitable day than most!
Meanwhile, a crowd had gathered around Jesus. Jericho was only about 15 miles away from Jerusalem, and the main road ran right through town. Jesus was on His way to the Passover; when a well-known teacher was on such a journey, it was customary for people to gather around and listen to his teaching on the trip. Many were pilgrims themselves on the way to Jerusalem. Some couldn’t go to Jerusalem for Passover—though the Law demanded that they should—but in lieu of this, many would gather along the streets as well to see some of the famous rabbis and hear their teaching as they’d journey. Hey, if Dr. Phil were walking through Mercer, a lot of folks would come out! Don’t save me a spot if he does, by the way. So the streets would be lined with people. And thus, perhaps this would be a red-letter day for a beggar like Bartimaeus!
Anticipation was heavy in the air as the burgeoning crowd began to enter the city of Jericho. The mood was festive; many no doubt were quite hopeful that they were in the beginning stages of ushering in God’s long-awaited Messiah, the political deliverer who’d get them out of this infernal bondage to the Romans. A tinge of triumph was in the air; was God about to act decisively?
Sitting there begging, unable to see, the first thing that Bartimaeus might have noticed was the sound of young boys running ahead of the crowd, laughing, yelling, playing like young boys do. Then, slowly, a rising crescendo of voices and laughter, possibly accompanied by some playing reeds or flutes. They say that when a person loses one of his senses, others compensate to the degree that they are able. His sense of hearing then being keenly developed, Bartimaeus could tell that something had caused a mammoth crowd to assemble and make this journey, a much larger crowd than usually, by the sounds of it!
He had to find out what all the commotion was all about, and so he cried out, asking if anyone could tell him the reason for the ruckus, and he was told: Jesus of Nazareth was coming that way! Bartimaeus’ heart began to pound out of his chest, and he swallowed hard. He had heard stories about the wonderful rabbi, the gentle healer, the miracle worker. Being blind had afforded him perhaps one advantage: he had much time to give to undistracted thought!
“How could a man do these things unless God is with him?”
Many times he had thought, “If only I were in the presence of this Jesus, he could heal me too!”
He had no eyesight, but perhaps he had remarkable insight. Helen Keller said, “Better to be blind and to see with your heart, than to have two good eyes and see nothing.”
This was Bartimaeus’ moment of truth; it was act now, or forever be consigned to blindness; forever wonder what might have been; forever live with regret and pain. There come such moments of decision in the life of every person, moments which, looked back upon, are make-or-break moments.
Cassie Bernall faced such a make-or-break moment four years ago, and while it cost her her life, it gained her a testimony of courage under fire and faith in God in the crucible that has inspired thousands and thousands. Staring down the barrel of a gun, they put the question to her, mocking, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Her mother Misty made it the title of the book on her life: She Said Yes! Michael W. Smith commemorated her life and courage in his song, “This is Your Time”:
“It was a test we could all hope to pass, but none of us would want to face; Faced with the choice to deny God and live,
For her there was one choice to make.
This was her time, this was her dance,
She lived every moment, left nothing to chance,
She swam in the sea, drank of the deep,
Embraced the mystery of all she could be.
This was her time!”
Bartimaeus faced that make-or-break moment; for him, the opportunity was now-or-never. He didn’t allow the negativism of the crowds to deter him. He didn’t worry about his deficiency or his handicap; he didn’t lament what he couldn’t do, rather he just did what he could. He didn’t hesitate; he began calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Notice the response of resistance from the crowd; they tried to shut him up. Why spoil the Passover celebration?
“We’re on our way to the Holy City; we have no time for a blind beggar!”
“Don’t bother the Master, you old beggar man!”
“He’s got more important things to do than to fool with you!”
Do you catch the irony here? This is the religious crowd, on their way to a religious festival! These are people who are listening to Jesus’ talk about the kingdom of God! They are in the right place listening to the right thing and they completely miss the point! Here’s my point, and it is one you might get tired of hearing me make—but that isn’t stopping me: some folks treat what we’re doing right now as the be-all-and-end-all. They pat themselves on the back because they attended church. Now, I’m glad you’re here; the Bible says we need to do this, and I wholeheartedly agree. But just being in the right place on Sunday morning doesn’t matter a whole lot if what I do when I leave this place doesn’t reflect the truth that I have met with Jesus.
I’m speaking at our District Conference this coming Saturday; appreciate any praying you can do for me regarding that. I’m going to refer to the fact that the terminology we use of “going to church” is actually faulty wording. What is “going to church” about? Why are we here now? Here’s the analogy: what we are doing now is like the pre-game for the Steelers. The coach gives a pep talk; strategies are considered; commitments to certain actions are encouraged. That’s what this is. Now, can you imagine someone going up to Tommy Maddox, Steeler QB, on Tuesday after a game and asking, “well, Tommy, how did things go Sunday?” And Tommy responds, “oh, Coach Cowher was great! His talk was so inspiring! And the assistant coaches had a great game plan!” And the fellow stops him and says, “that’s nice, Tommy, but how was the game?” “Oh, that chalk-talk on picking up the blitz was just the best, and…” Now, leaving aside the argument about whether or not the Steelers might at times have been better off to stay in the locker room, the point is that it’s not about the locker room, it’s about the game!
Here were people who were with Jesus, listening and taking it all in, in the right place, if you will, but when it came to helping out a blind man, they told him to shut up. They failed to seize a golden opportunity that fairly smacked them in the face. Does that represent what the church does sometimes? They were so interested in listening and so woefully short when it came to obeying. They told the blind man that Jesus wouldn’t have time for him.
Oh, but that’s where they were wrong, dead wrong. Jesus was far more concerned with the hurting and the needy than His Day-Timer or His schedule or His persona. Verse 48 says that Bartimaeus just cried out all the more, “Jesus, Son of David, hey, have mercy on me!” When the cry reached Jesus’ ears, it froze Him in His tracks. That phrase, “Son of David”, had Messianic overtones; this is the first time we read that anyone had publicly referred to Jesus as such. He heard a plaintive cry and a prophetic salute at the same time!
And so Jesus, on His way to becoming the Savior of the world, stops to become the servant of a blind beggar! Notice the complete difference between Jesus’ attitude and that of the people. The fickle crowd had been saying, “Shut up!” Now, their refrain changes, as they say, effectively, “Cheer up!” “Take courage” is the way the Bible phrases it. How many times had he heard that before, with no real reason to cheer up, offered as a panacea in the place of really offering help.
But this time, there was real reason to cheer up, to take courage, for Someone was here Who could make a real difference! Further, the crowd said, “Get up!” The Master was calling, and when Jesus calls, we dare not stay where we are. Up to his feet he leapt, and following as best he could the sound of the voice, he made his way to Jesus. Tossing aside his old cloak—did he sense he wouldn’t need rags anymore?—he made his way to Jesus. No doubt many had tossed coins before that had landed in the old coat; now it was a relic of a life gone by. Uncertainly, haltingly, but with resolute determination, Bartimaeus responded to the call of Jesus.
“What do you want?” Jesus asked. Interestingly, Jesus Christ had just somewhat indignantly rejected the request of two of His closest friends, James and John. Now we find Him rushing to grant a carte blanche to a stranger. Why? Because, I believe, whereas He saw in James and John an unbridled ambition, He found in Bartimaeus faith. God responds to faith! And He asks Bartimaeus, “what do you want?” Did He ask because He didn’t know? Was it not obvious? And even had it not been, was He not God, Who knows all things? Of course. But He asked Bartimaeus to articulate the words of faith, words that acknowledge why the blind man had called for Jesus in the first place: “Teacher, I want to see!” And Jesus granted His request!
Think of it: total darkness to unimpaired vision in a moment! And think as well of the fact that the very first thing that blind man saw was the face of Jesus! Clarence McCartney wrote, “And for you and me, too, that will be the greatest of all sights. When we awake from the dream men call life, when we put off the image of the earth and break the bonds of time and mortality, when the scales of time and sense have fallen from our eyes and the garment of corruption has been put off and when this mortality has put on immortality and this corruption has put on incorruption and we awaken in the everlasting morning, that will be the sight that will stir us and hold us.”
But the story doesn’t end here. We see the rest of the story in verse 52, which says that Bartimaeus “began following (Jesus) on the road.” He never went back and grabbed the cloak. When Jesus changes us, we don’t need the old things anymore! Bartimaeus joined in the procession making its way to Jerusalem. For all of our joy in considering what it must have been like to have the face of Jesus be the first thing one has ever seen, consider the things that Bartimaeus would see just a few short days later, as this gentle Healer was scourged and mocked and then crucified.
But there is a fair question to ask: why do we know Bartimaeus’ name? Didn’t Jesus heal any number of blind, deaf, crippled people? Why does this blind beggar stand out? It’s hard to know definitively, but scholars tell us that Bartimaeus’ name is presented when others are lost likely due to the fact that Bartimaeus became a leader in the early church! The faith that caused him to call out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” was a faith that sustained this man, having been delivered by the mercy for which he cried, through the most trying of times, a faith that was bolstered by the event of the resurrection!
And there, lying on the ground by the Jericho roadside, is an old cloak, no longer wanted or needed by a man whose life has been radically transformed by Jesus, now a memorial of the fact that, when Jesus changes a life, we don’t need the old stuff anymore!