Can I first of all add my own welcome to your collection if you're new here this evening. And then let me say that my title is 'What Do You Want?' and we're going to take a look at Mark 10.46-52 – the Bible passage we heard read earlier. Please have that open in front of you. You'll find it on page 847 in the Bibles under the heading 'Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus'.
Last week the legendary baseball player Yogi Berra died aged 90. It's a terrific name, and apparently the cartoon character Yogi Bear was named after him. His playing career was even more terrific – but he was almost as famous for his sayings, known as Yogisms, which I love, such as:
"Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded."
"It ain't over 'til it's over."
"You wouldn't have won if we'd beaten you."
"It was impossible to get a conversation going, everbody was talking too much."
"You should always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours."
"It's just déjà vu all over again."
Why do I tell you about Yogi? Because I couldn't resist it. But there is a tenuous link in my favourite of all his sayings, which is this:
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
If you're starting out in a new place, you're at a fork in the road. So who are you going to listen to as you decide which road to take? Who are you going to follow? There are many voices calling. Our prayer for you is that you'll decide to follow Jesus. But whether you do or not really depends on what is your deepest desire. So let me ask you a question: What do you want most? Just think about that for a minute. What do you want most? It'll be your secret…
We're looking this evening at what happened to a man who knew what he wanted and set out to get it. What he wanted was impossibly difficult. But he sensed an opportunity for the impossible to happen, and he took it. He got what he wanted. What happened to him is recorded there in the Gospel of Mark, 10.46-52. Let me read this short account again:
"And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart. Get up; he is calling you." And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" And the blind man said to him,"Rabbi, let me recover my sight." And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way."
Now, as you'll see from the outline that's on the back of the service sheet I have three short headings: one question to answer, and two things to do. First, the question: 'What do you want?' Secondly, 'Call out to Jesus'. Thirdly, 'Follow Jesus'. Simple but radical. So:
First, What Do You Want?
Jesus asks the blind beggar Bartimaeus this extraordinary question: 'What do you want me to do for you?' It's a question that shows two important things about Jesus. First, his compassion. One of the things that's continually astonishing about Jesus is the way that he responds to the needs of those around him, even when he's under massive pressure himself. Because we mustn't forget what's going on here. Just look across the page to 10.32, and towards the end of that verse:
"And taking the twelve again, [Jesus] began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man [that's him] will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.""
Jesus is on his way to his death and he knows it. He's shortly going to be executed in the most brutal way that a cruel empire had devised. So Jesus was heading into the worst suffering that any man has ever experienced. On the cross, innocent as he was, he was to carry the full weight of the sins of the world. If you've been through really tough experiences, you'll know how the whole of your energies tend to get focussed down on your own struggle. You don't have the energy left to reach out towards others in need. Not so with Jesus. The compassion of Jesus is an amazing thing. "What do you want me to do for you?", he asked.
Another thing that question indicates is the power of Jesus. When you've fallen into a hole, compassion is good but it's even better if the compassionate person can pull you out. Jesus isn't just compassionate towards Bartimaeus – and us. He has the power to do something about our predicament. Bartimaeus the blind beggar was beginning to understand that. "Son of David", he keeps calling Jesus. Meaning what? Meaning Messiah – the long awaited, divinely appointed King who would come back to God's people and put things right. "Son of David" really means saviour of the world. The beginning of the letter to the Hebrews say this of Jesus:
"… in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power."
The word of Jesus is so powerful that it can create the universe out of nothing. That's how powerful he is. Compassion – and power. That's what we need when we want someone to give us something. Jesus has both. In abundance.
So what do you want? If you found someone who cared about you and who had the power to do anything for you, what would you ask for? What's missing in your life that you yearn for? Is it excitement? Or to belong among friends? Joe Simpson in his book 'The Beckoning Silence' speaks of a one-time climbing companion of his who was killed in a paragliding accident. He says:
"Tat had been a good friend, a wonderful, caring, life-loving man … when we met he made it so obvious that he liked you; that he was delighted to be with you. It made you feel special, content."
Is that what you want – a friend like that? Or maybe you have some secret ambition. Or perhaps you long to make a difference in people's lives – for your life to count for something. The desire in the heart of this blind beggar was rather more basic. He wanted to be free of a physical condition that had forced him into the wretched existence of a beggar on the streets.
And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" And the blind man said to him, "Rabbi, let me recover my sight."
How would you have answered that question? Because Jesus has the same compassion towards you that he had towards this man. And his word is as powerful today as it was when he made the world or when he healed blind Bartimaeus. What are you going to ask him for? Of course Jesus won't do anything that's going to damage you or others. And he acts on his timescale not on ours. He is not at our beck and call. He often says, in effect, 'wait, the time isn't right yet.' His is the perspective of eternity, not of the next half hour. But he does satisfy our deepest desires. So how can that happen in your life? Well Bartimaeus is an example for us. What does he do – and what should we do? My next two headings sum that up. So my next heading is simply this:
Secondly, Call Out To Jesus
Here's Mark again – v47:
"And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!""
He called out to Jesus. Simple as that. And that's what we have to do as well. Now, of course, we don't have Jesus physically present – walking down Northumberland Street or whereever. But he's still with us by his Spirit. Which reminds me of what Yogi Berra said about his lifelong happy marriage:
"We have a good time together even when we're not together."
Jesus is still accessible to us – in fact far more accessible than he was to the blind man. The bible passage I quoted from Hebrews earlier goes on:
"After making purification for sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…"
Jesus is now by his heavenly Father's side, ruling the world. And he hears us when we speak to him. That's what prayer is – simply talking to God. So we can call out to Jesus more easily and with more assurance of being heard than this blind man had who was right there when Jesus walked by.
But there's a number of things about Bartimaeus that are key to the success of his plea to Jesus. Jesus commends him, so we need to be like him. For a start, he had at least a basic understanding of who Jesus was. 'Jesus, Son of David…' he called out. And he kept on, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' It's not clear how he got that understanding. Certainly he has God-given insight into the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. And presumably, he'd been listening to the talk on the street about Jesus. So what can you do to get this basic understanding of Jesus? For a start, you can ask questions of those you know who are Christians. Try us out – it doesn't matter what the question is.
But we have another advantage over the blind man. In the New Testament we now have written, authoritative, reliable records of what Jesus did and said on earth. The point of them is precisely to give people an understanding of who Jesus is. So read them. Look out for the video-based 'Christianity Explored' course we'll be running. That's an opportunity to go through Mark's Gospel in the company of others who are also asking questions. That's for you whether or not you're a student. If you're an international, there are groups designed for you too. Take a look at the leaflets.
I joined a similar kind of group many years ago when I was at school. I was about fourteen. What I discovered completely changed the course of my life. I didn't just find out more about Jesus. I met him personally. When that happened, what I thought I wanted more than anything else in life went out the window. Exam results, success, my dream life-style – all these were pushed to the margins, and Jesus took his rightful place at the centre of my life. He has never left me. Nowadays, when life is hard, I often wonder how people who don't know Jesus get through the day without his love and guidance.
As a student, I, in my turn, helped to lead such groups, and I saw others make the same discovery. Looking back, that was perhaps the most significant thing that I did during my university years. Now my deepest desire is to introduce others to Jesus. So understand who Jesus is.
Another aspect of the blind man's faith is his determination not to be deflected by obstacles and opposition. What happened when he started to call out? Verse 48:
"And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!""
One thing is for sure. Once we get started on the path of faith in Jesus, we get opposition of one sort or another. In this case presumably the crowd just thought he was being a pain and that he was too insignificant to be bothering Jesus. But he wouldn't be deflected. So don't let sniping comments from others at school, or on your course, or in your house, or at work, get to you and force you to back down. Don't be deflected.
And don't be secretive. Do you see how Bartimaeus is willing to let others see that he's approaching Jesus for help. Of course, for him, it was either that or don't ask Jesus at all. We can pray in secret, so it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can be closet believers. But like Bartimaeus, we have to be upfront. Being a Christian is a public business. If you've just started at University and you're a Christian, make that obvious to those around you as soon as possible. Just letting them know that you were here this evening should do the trick. Don't be secretive.
And then, we have to open up and be honest with Jesus. Bartimaeus answered Jesus' question directly. He dared to express what was the deepest desire of his heart at that moment. We, too, need to be direct and honest with Jesus. Tell him what you want and need. Tell him what's on your heart. He wants to hear from you. Nothing will surprise him. He knows you better than you know yourself. But he wants to hear it from your own mouth. He wants you to open up to him. Then he can help.
Understand who Jesus is. Don't be deflected. Don't be secretive. Open up to Jesus. And call out to him in your heart. That's the beginning of faith. That's what Jesus responds to. "Rabbi, let me recover my sight," the blind man says. Verse 52:
"And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way."
So my final main heading is just this:
Thirdly, Follow Jesus
The image of this once-blind man following Jesus along the road rejoicing is intended to be a picture of what it means to have faith in Christ. We don't just ask for what we want, get it, and go our own way. You can't treat Jesus like that. You cannot call on Jesus as the all-powerful King who can solve your problems - and then reject his right to rule your life. In fact the key to solving your problems is precisely to submit to Jesus and live in obedience to him.
He does forgive our sins and satisfy our deepest desires. That's why he went to the cross and died the death that we deserved. But in the process he tranforms our priorities, so that following him becomes more important than anything else. We're all blind to what matters most until Jesus by his Spirit opens our blind eyes. Then we can see that what does matter most is not our comfort or any self-centred desires or ambitions – but Jesus himself and his glory. So never imagine that calling out to Jesus and being a believer is a recipe for the instant fulfilment of our self-centred dreams. If you call out to Jesus you might not get the one thing that you think you need above all else. But you'll get something better. You'll get what you really need. And that means being loved and forgiven, belonging, living a purposeful life that makes a difference. It also means following Jesus on the road.
And which road was that? It was the road to the cross. For Jesus, suffering came before glory. The same is true for his followers. But when you've met Jesus, and heard his voice calling you, and experienced his compassion and his power, then your deepest desire becomes to know him and serve him with the whole of your life.
I recently received an email. Let me read it to you:
Notification of Bequest.
On behalf of the Trustees and Executors of the Estate of the late Scott Kennedy, I hereby attempt to reach you again. I wish to notify you that the late Scott Kennedy made you a beneficiary to his will. He left the sum of twenty three million two hundred thousand dollars to you in the codicil and last testament to his will.
This may sound strange and unbelievable to you, [you're not kidding!] but it is real and true [I don't think so.] … Please fill in the information below for re-confirmation and more directives. [You must be joking.]
Mr Francis Gilbert Esq.
Strange and unbelievable indeed. You would be crazy to take that seriously. Why? Because Mr Francis Gilbert has absolutely no credibility whatsoever.
But when Jesus asks the question, "What do you want me to do for you?" the exact opposite is the case. You would be crazy not to take him seriously. Why? His compassion and his power are clear. He died for you. He rose from the dead. He is utterly credible. We cannot afford to ignore him. He is God made flesh.
What do you want? What is your deepest desire? Whatever it is, call out to Jesus in faith. He will hear you. He will call you to him, just as he did Bartimaeus. He will take away your spiritual blindness and give you everything that you need. Then follow him on the road through suffering to glory.