The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“How may I help you? What can I do for you?” Given the consumer-driven world we live in nowadays, it only makes sense to our ears that Jesus would ask such a question to blind Bartimaeus. “What do you want me to do for you?” The question certainly makes sense when we consider it in light of how Jesus so often refers to Himself as “servant.” He’s here to serve us, right? “What do you want me to do for you?” Well… duh! Restore my sight!
In fact, looking over the text, some are even tempted to conclude that Jesus actually owed Bartimaeus this miraculous favor. (It’s wrong, but why would people believe this; i.e., that Bartimaeus earned a favor from Jesus?) Just look at all the abuse this poor guy had to suffer! And understand, I’m not just referring to the fact that the guy had to go through the majority of his life as blind, which wasn’t just considered to be a handicap, but it actually rendered him “unclean,” which made him an outcast who was being punished for sin, either his own sin or the sin of his parents. That’s abuse enough, to go through life treated as a sinful pariah and outcast simply because you’re blind. Add to that the fact that he’s a street urchin; a beggar. How well do you treat the beggars and panhandlers you cross paths with? No different than today, he was basically invisible. (Ironic, when you think about it. Everyone basically acted blind, like they couldn’t even see the poor blind guy.)
And then we consider how he’s treated/abused by all those around him (disciples included, mind you) as he’s crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” To say that the crowd “shushed” him is a gross understatement. The text tells us that they actually began to rebuke him. The more he cried, the more they rebuked him; the more they tried to silence him. He was really taking one for the team, wasn’t he? (This is why I said that some might foolishly believe that Jesus owes Bartimaeus a favor.) Rebuke: That’s a word typically reserved for wickedness; for the demonic. It carries with it the meaning of silencing that which is trying to destroy or kill. Jesus rebukes demons. Jesus even rebukes the stormy wind and waves as they attack the disciples’ boat, causing the disciples to freak out in terror, convinced that they’re going to a watery grave. Jesus rebukes, and there is flat-calm and instant peace. It all makes perfect sense.
But what about here? Jesus isn’t rebuking wickedness. Jesus isn’t rebuking anyone or anything here. Rather, it’s the crowd doing the rebuking. The crowd is trying to silence the good and faithful confession of the blind guy in the gutter calling out to Jesus for mercy. Here’s the thing: The fact that the word “rebuke” is used here cues us in on the fact that something wicked is present and active. In this case, it’s the wickedness of the good-intentioned crowd. Now, if you had asked them, there was nothing wicked at all about their good intentions. They were only trying to “save” Jesus from having to deal with such a hindrance. They’re trying to “save” Jesus from being bothered by such an “unclean sinner.” Are you picking up here on the evil irony? They’re trying to save the Savior! The wickedness I speak of, though, goes way beyond ignorant good intentions.
I want you to consider the crowd’s designation for Jesus. Blind Bartimaeus hears the approaching commotion, and he asks what’s going on. They tell him that “Jesus of Nazareth” is coming. Okay… so what’s so bad about that? He is Jesus of Nazareth, right? Yes… that is where He was raised, just like the Scriptures foretold. However… that’s not what the crowd is confessing here. They only see Jesus, the man; the mighty miracle worker who happens to hail from Nazareth. Blind Bartimaeus, on the other hand, “sees” through the eyes of faith the promised Messiah: “Jesus, Son of David.” There is a difference. “Jesus of Nazareth” speaks only to the man. “Jesus, Son of David” is a confession of God’s promised Messiah in the flesh. Recognized in this light, it makes sense that the crowd would be trying to silence the Good News of Messianic fulfillment—God’s promise in the flesh. Do you honestly think that the devil wants that kind of message to get out? Jesus, the guy from Nazareth, who can do some pretty cool tricks? Preach on! Jesus; Son of David; God’s Word made flesh? No… we need to shut that down right now! You see, this crowd didn’t know it at the time, but they truly were functioning as “devil’s advocate” as they rebuked Bartimaeus and tried to silence him in his confession of Jesus.
But Jesus knows what’s going on. (Of course He does. He’s God!) He immediately stops the procession (which is taking place either on or the day before Palm Sunday) and He commands that Bartimaeus draw near to Him. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Do you think Jesus already knows? (Of course He does. He’s God!) So why ask the question then? And before we get too far into this, I want you to take heed of the fact that Jesus asks this very same question of James, John, and their mom immediately before this procession out of Jericho, perhaps only a few minutes earlier. If you’ll recall, those three yahoos come to Jesus, not even with a request, but with a demand. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” “What do you want Me to do for you?” And you know the rest, don’t you? “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left hand, in your kingdom of glory.” With His question, Jesus gave those self-serving, glory-seeking fools more than enough rope to hang themselves with. That question smoked out their sinful understandings and desires.
Think on this. Jesus asks the same question two different times, perhaps only minutes/hours apart. The difference comes down to the focus and the desire of those being asked. When you get down to it, James and John only sought to serve themselves. They wanted the power, the glory, and the control that came with being in charge. Bartimaeus, on the other hand, was simply seeking to serve Jesus and make Him known.
On the surface, that doesn’t make sense, does it? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems pretty selfish to ask Jesus to restore your sight… just as selfish, at least, as James and John asking for management positions. They all seemed to be in it for themselves. Not so! Remember: The Messiah, as promised throughout the Old Testament, would restore sight to the blind (among other things; i.e., restoration of hearing to the deaf, lame walking, dead rising, and the lowly/outcast having the Good News proclaimed to them). Folks: This is Jesus giving Bartimaeus the golden opportunity to confess his faith in the Messiah in front of everyone. This is God using the life and circumstances of one of the faithful to make His Immanuel presence known. All those years of blindness and sorrow, not a result of God’s punishment, but “for such a time as this!” God knows what He’s doing, and He’s always working all things for the good of those who love Him!
This is Jesus also strengthening Bartimaeus in his faith, giving him the opportunity to boldly come before his Lord and Savior and ask Him for deliverance; for help; for restoration. That’s the very definition of God-pleasing prayer! Your Lord grants the prayerful request; the request that is basically holding God’s feet to the Messianic fire. God promised that the Messiah would restore blindness, and Bartimaeus, with the Messiah’s blessing, boldly asks that He do just that. “Rabbonai” (not “Rabbi,” as there is a difference!) restore my sight. (Rabbonai is a very faithful confession, heavily freighted in the language of “My Lord and Master”) And how does Jesus respond to such bold faith? “Go. Your faith has saved you.” Not “go your own way,” which is a terrible translation. “Go. Be going.” And what is the way that Bartimaeus goes? He follows Jesus, all the way to Jerusalem; all the way to the cross; all the way home to heaven. Thanks be to God!
Now, we could go forward here with the simple question: “What about you?” It makes sense to ask the question. How do you see Jesus? Is He your Lord and Savior, who comes to you in fulfillment of God’s Gospel promise, coming to you to restore you in the brokenness of your sin? Is He the Holy One, who comes to you, lavishing upon you His undeserved and unmerited gifts of mercy, grace, and forgiveness, or is He more of a genie, who is supposed to grant your wishes? Is Jesus “Lord and Savior” or is He “customer service Jesus,” whose job it is to satisfy you, the customer (who is always right)? Careful before you answer, because the fruits you bear in life confess the truth of what you really believe in your heart!
You know as well as I do that we tend to come to Jesus more often like James and John than like Bartimaeus. We come with demands intended only to serve ourselves. Power, control, glory, health, wealth… you name it. And when we don’t come with demands, we come with deals and quid pro quos. “Jesus, I’ll scratch your back, and you can scratch mine in return. I’ll do this for you, and then you can do this for me.” As I said just a couple of Sundays ago with the paralytic who was healed, nobody ever comes to Jesus to just get their sins forgiven! We come to Him because we need/want something. “Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven!” Yeah… thanks for that, but here’s what I really want/need. Here’s what I really want you to do for me. We may say that we’re intending to serve Jesus; intending to make Him and His glories known, but we’re not. You can admit or not, but God knows the truth, so you may as well confess.
You know… rather than harp on all this, let us instead focus on Christ. “What do you want me to do for you?” First off, if you had any say in how victory over sin, death, and the devil was supposed to look/sound, you would NOT draw up the plan like this! [the crucifix] Why? Because we don’t want a Savior who dies! This is defeat! This is utter humiliation! The good guys are supposed to kick butt and take names. This should be the bad guys being humiliated and put down in shame, not the Savior! “What do you want me to do for you?” We would never answer that question: “Be persecuted, humiliated, suffer, and die for me.” Nope. But that’s exactly what our Lord does for us. He does it because that’s exactly what we need. Only the death of God is able to pay the incomprehensible debt of sin. Only the blood of Jesus is able to make atonement for sin. Only the blood of the Holy One of God is able to make full and complete restoration, from death to life.
So… yeah… look to the cross and consider what God has already done for you. And then look to this font, this altar, this pulpit and consider what this same God and Lord is doing for us right now, in our very midst! Think on this! Even if all your sufferings and sorrows remained (or even got worse), the Lord of Life continues to draw near to you (He doesn’t sit back and wait for you to come to Him) in order to restore you in His all-availing grace and mercy; in order to nourish you, to cleanse you, and to cover you over in the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus. All this… before we even ask! This is the love of God, in your presence and presently active… for you. Recognized in this light, the only question that really remains is the question that all those in the joy of repentant faith ask: What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? God: What can I do for you? Answer: I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord!
May this be your reality, now and into all eternity. Like Bartimaeus, may the efforts and rebukes of this fallen and sinful world never discourage you or keep you down, and may you ever be found to be following Him and making Him known. Basically, may your entire life—all your comings and goings, all your words and deeds—be one big bold and thankful confession of Christ Jesus and all that He has done for you and continues to do for you. AMEN.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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