Encounters With Jesus: The Blind Beggar

This morning we are going to read about the time when Jesus healed a blind beggar on the side of the road.  And we’re going to read about it in the book of Luke, which is in the New Testament.  The Bible is divided into two main sections. The Old Testament describes primarily God’s interaction with the Nation of Israel. 

The other part of the Bible is The New Testament.  There’s about 400 years between the writing of the Old and the writing of the New.  The Old Testament promising that someday a Savior will come, a child will be born, Immanuel, God with us.  The New Testament is the fulfillment of those promises, through the birth of Jesus.

The first four books of the New Testament describe the life and ministry of Jesus.  We call them the Gospels – which means Good News – so the Good news – according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.   And today we are reading from Luke’s account of Jesus’ life.

Now, the story we are reading today actually is described in two of the other gospels as well, though each of the other two add details that Luke chooses to leave out.  Matthew, for instance, tells us that the story we are reading actually had two beggars, not only one.  And Mark describes only one, but he tells us his name.  His name was Bartimaeus.  Luke doesn’t bother telling us his name. 

Now some people like to make hay about these differences.  Oh, the bible contradicts itself!  No, it doesn’t. Each writer is choosing to add as much detail as they desire, and usually there’s a reason why they choose what they did.  Luke has a reason for only telling us about one blind beggar and He has a reason for not including his name – I’ll tell you why I think in a minute.

The point is, that, if you have a bible with study notes in it – I use this one called the NIV Study Bible – under each paragraph it will list the other places in the gospels that story shows up.  And so, maybe sometime you sit down and drink a cup of coffee and you dig into a section and cross reference other passages to get the bigger, complete picture.

By the way, there are tools out there who have tried to blend all four gospel stories into one, somewhat chronological, story.  That kind of book is called a Harmony of the Gospels and to be honest, it sounds much more interesting than it turns out to be.

I’m not a huge fan, because I think each of the four books have a difference emphasis, a different purpose, and I like to just read them one at a time.  But if it piques your curiosity, then go for it.  A Harmony of the Gospel.  You can probably find an online one for free.

In my opinion, your money would be better spent on a good Study Bible. 

Before we jump into Luke 18 to read the story of Bartimaeus, I’d like to start with a corny joke. 

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go camping and pitch their tent under the stars. In the Middle of the night, Holmes wakes his companion and says: Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what you deduce.

Watson, always wanting to impress Sherlock, says: I see the North Star right there, and for ages man has used those steadfast stars in the sky to navigate the corners of the earth.  I see millions of stars, and even if a few of those have planets it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life.  Somewhere out there, Holmes, might be two men like us looking up at our star, wondering if there is life in the universe.

Holmes slaps in the head. Watson, you idiot. Somebody stole our tent.

True Story.  I bring that up because this story in Luke has many interesting facets to it, and though I will mention a couple of them, I don’t want to miss the obvious. 

So here’s Luke chapter 18

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road.36 When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening.37 They told him that Jesus the Nazarene was going by. 38 So he began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 “Be quiet!” the people in front yelled at him.

But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord,” he said, “I want to see!”

42 And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.”43 Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.

Before we get into the obvious, let me talk a bit about the less obvious but interesting aspects of this story.  Two aspects of the story to note that will help us gain understanding of the meaning of the passage.

First – note the context of the passage in Luke.

If you do buy yourself a nice study bible, and you do sit down to read – always note what comes just before and just after the section you are reading.  Context is everything.  In fact there is nothing more important to understanding the Bible on a deeper level than by noting the context.  Why did the author, in this case Luke, choose to put the stories in the order that he did?

And what we read , just three verses removed from this story, is the time when a rich young ruler comes to see Jesus, and he walks away sad.  He was offered an invitation to come follow Jesus – but Jesus challenges him to divest himself first of his wealth.  The rich young man walked away sad.

Three verses later we read about the poor blind beggar.  Two people on the opposite ends of the spectrum.  A rich guy.  He has his health.  He has power and prestige.  When he talks, people listen.

Here on the side of the road is a poor beggar, blind, and when he speaks, the crowd tells him to shut up.  He is offered no respect, no dignity. 

And though this isn’t the big idea for the morning, it’s worth noting that then, as now, people seem to equate health and wealth with blessing.  Look at that guy,  He’s blessed.  He’s got money.  Look at the lush hair! He must be blessed.

And so, let me just tell you, that’s baloney.  Theological baloney.  If you are here today and you are going through a difficult time, it’s not because God has had enough of your nonsense.  He is not smiting you for your failures. 

If you are enduring hardship in your life right now, it’s because we live in a broken jacked up world that Jesus is in the process of repairing – in no small part through the love and compassion of his followers.  But it’s important to put aside this notion that God rewards good people with nice things.  And punishes naughty people with bad things. 

Luke is trying to help us see that anyone is blessable.  Blessable even are the poor – the blind, the beggars.  And, by the way, blessable also are the rich who respond to the invitation – and so –the next story in Luke happens in Luke 19 and it’s the story of Zaccheus.  Who was wealthy, and who joyfully followed Jesus in response to his invitation.  Showing that blessable even, are the rich.

Luke goes to great lengths to help us see that people are people and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their bank account or circumstances in life. 

Luke takes every occasion to help us see Jesus lifting up the poor and women, and the sick, anyone else who might be considered outcasts of society, treating them with dignity and respect that comes from the simple truth that they are human beings.

So why doesn’t Luke mention that there were two beggars on the side of the road, like Matthew?  He is comparing and contrasting one rich young ruler, with one poor blind beggar. 

Why doesn’t he mention his name?  For Luke, his name didn’t matter, just as the name of the rich young ruler didn’t matter.  Their names were rich healthy powerful, and blind, poor, beggar.  One walks away sad, the other is singing in the streets, blessed by God.  And surprise – it’s not the one you might think.

The second thing I want us to notice is the location of where this event takes place.  It takes place on Jericho Road. 

Now Jericho was a town about 17 miles from Jerusalem, and it had a tough reputation.  It was the Detroit of Israel – kind of a reputation for crime.

As a matter of fact – and this is why I mention it – Jesus once told a story, recorded by Luke, about a man who was traveling on this Jericho Road.  It’s a story of the Good Samaritan.

25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells a story – about a man traveling on Jericho Road -mwho was mugged and beaten and robbed and left for dead along the side of the road – and three men walked past.  The first two were religious people who didn’t want to stop and help and so they crossed to the other side of the road and just kept walking.

The third man was a Samaritan – the people the Jewish people despised more than anyone else – and he stops and helps the man, bandages him up, brings him to a hotel, pays for his medical treatment – the whole nine yards.

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Jesus tells us that the most important two things in this life – Love God with all you’ve got – and Love your neighbor?  And what does it look like to be that kind of neighbor?  It means – showing mercy!  Go and do the same!  Go and show mercy.

Here is Jesus now, some eight chapters later,  and he is actually walking on Jericho Road – and he is walking past a man in need crying out for mercy!

Of course Jesus stops.  Because Jesus always practices what he preaches!  He was not going to walk to the other side of the road, of that I can assure you.  If anything, he was setting this up eight chapters ago – to let us know what kind of person Jesus is.  He stops to help his neighbor!  He responds to people in need.  He is merciful, loving, generous – he is everything the Good Samaritan was.

Go back and read the story of the Good Samaritan and all of a sudden we realize  – wait – JESUS is the Good Samaritan.  We were the ones on the side of the road, left for dead.  He comes to our rescue.  He shows us mercy.  He is the one who heals us, who generously provides above and beyond for all of our needs.  He’s that kind of guy.  He’s that kind of God!

Now – someone stole our tent!  Okay – right -let’s talk about the obvious.  The obvious is, that Jesus showed mercy to a man in need.  The big idea is that God is merciful and expects us to be merciful as well.

Three obvious points.

Point one. Because God is merciful, Jesus is merciful to Bart.

One time Moses was having a heart to heart with God and he asked God to show his Glory to Moses.  Moses wanted to know what kind of God he was dealing with.  What are you Like God?

And here is God description of himself…   The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.  Exodus 34:6

That’s a good God, you know.  Sometimes people say to me, why is God mean in the Old Testament – but Jesus is so great? You know?  I mean Jesus, that guy was compassionate and merciful, he was so patient and filled with love.  Oh, that’s exactly right.  And that’s also the God of the Old Testament too.  It’s how he described himself to Moses from the get go.  And he hasn’t changed.

That doesn’t mean God isn’t also a judge.  And a judge renders verdicts, and sometimes the verdict is guilty and the punishment of the crime is death.  But the truth is we want a Just God, we demand a just God.  We care deeply about justice – if you don’t agree then tell me how you feel when someone cuts in line in front of you at Costco or the DMV or the movie theater – anywhere.   

How dare you cut in front of me! (Some of you are like, not me, I don’t care – You’re a filthy liar!  And if that offends you than it proves my point that you want justice.)

We deeply want God to be a fair judge – but more than anything, when it comes to us, personally, we want God to be a merciful judge. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people speeding through town here and inside I say – I hope there’s a cop sitting in the medium by Angus street to bust you for speeding!  How dare you speed through my town!  We demand justice.

I got pulled over recently for not stopping all the way at a stop sign.  Mercy! 

We deeply want God to be a fair judge – but more than anything, when it comes to us, personally, we want God to be a merciful judge. 

And thankfully he is.

Jesus was God in the flesh.  He shows mercy to Bartimaeus because Jesus, like the Father, is full of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.

Ephesians 2 tells us that God is Rich in mercy.  But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.

He’s loaded with it.  The guy is flush with mercy and he’ll be more than happy to peal a few bills of mercy to give you because he is generous with mercy too.

We never need to fear that we are asking too much of God to show us mercy.

This brings us to the second Obvious point. 

Because God is merciful, Jesus is merciful to us!

This week we are celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Jesus rode into a donkey into the city and people cheered and hooped and hollered – and they shouted –

Luke 19:36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. –

(Matthew tell us ) – that others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 

Mark tells us  Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting, (Luke 19:37)and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

What is happening here?  Isn’t this sweet, I’m glad Jesus got a nice day – people treated him nice before – you know, the crucifixion and all, I’m glad he had a good day!  No!  It’s so much more!

This is the coronation of a king!  This is what they did for Solomon – the son of David, when he was anointed king.  They are – rightly and properly – declaring him to be the King of Israel.  the King of the Jews.

Jesus is the king – he is the king of the world, he is the king of mercy, and he is the king of all who want him to govern the days of their lives. 

What kind of king is this Jesus?  He is the kind who willingly traded a golden crown for a crown of thorns.  Who traded in his royal robes for the humiliation of hanging naked on a cross, who set aside a goblet filled with the choice wine, in order to drink vinegar from a cup held by mocking soldiers.

He’s the kind of king who laid down his life for people like you and me and for all who are ready, like Bartimeaus, to cry out for mercy.

The prayer that always gets Gods attention is the prayer of Bartimeaus – Lord have mercy on me.  And when he stands before us and asks us – like he asked Bartimaues – what do you want me to do for you?  Please don’t say – I want to go to heaven when I die!  Please don’t. 

Heaven is a wonderful promise, but you are living in a world right now and you and I are part of it.  Our days are meant to be lived with significance.  So when Jesus, asks us – I hope it sounds something like, Make me a new kind of human being.  Let me live my life like Jesus lived his – Loving God and loving his neighbor.

Help me to become a minister of your mercy.  And see, this is the last obvious point.  Because God has shown such mercy to you and me, we are merciful to others.  We become ministers of God’s mercy.

Indeed, back to the story of the Good Samaritan – who is the good neighbor?  The one who showed mercy.  Go and do likewise.

Jesus gives us nothing short of a command to become the kind of people who freely, and easily and generously, provide shelter, finances, medical care, and friendship to people who lack them.

The striking truth is that the work of mercy is fundamental to our faith.  It’s nothing short of a command.  But it’s also a wonderful promise. 

When we call out to God for mercy, when we choose to place our faith in Him, he begins to transform us into those different kind of person.  And we naturally, easily, become generous ministers of mercy – whether it’s providing shelter for single homeless moms, like at restored Hope.  Or Medical care – in Mali, or food in the mouths of orphans in Haiti, or caring for the needs of the poor in our own community – we become ministers of mercy.

And in our homes – to our spouses, our kids our parents, we become people who forgive and do our best to forget, and display mercy to those who need it.

Like Jesus, we become the kind of people who don’t give to others what they have coming to them.

We are going to celebrate communion shortly, and it’s open and available to anyone who wishes to take part in it.  And the bread represents the body of Jesus broken out of the rich mercy of God.  And the juice – it represents the blood of Jesus poured out become mercy is more than compassion.  Mercy acts. 

And Jesus saw our need for forgiveness of sins and a fresh start in our friendship with God and he was moved with mercy to come and rescue us from the lives we were born into by default.

Titus 3:5 declares: He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.

Because God is merciful, Jesus shows mercy to anyone in here who calls out to him.  And maybe today is the day you do that.  Who are you going to be.  The rich young ruler, or the blind beggar?  Both encountered Jesus.  One walked away sad.  One walked away with a brand new kind of life.

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