What do you want most at the moment? Just think about that for a minute. It'll be your secret…
We're looking this morning 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 in the Gospel of Luke, 18.35-43. We heard it earlier, but the account is brief and I'll tell it to you again. Luke 18.35:
"As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he enquired what this meant. They told him, 'Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.' And he cried out, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' And those who were in front 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 commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' He said, 'Lord, let me recover my sight.' And Jesus said to him, 'Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.' And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God."
Now, as you'll see from the outline that's on the back of the service sheet, I'm organising what I want to draw out of this incident under three short headings: one question to answer, and two things to do. First, the question from Jesus: 'What do you want me to do for you?' Secondly, 'call out to Jesus'. Thirdly, 'follow Jesus'. Simple but radical. So:
1. "What Do You Want Me To Do For You?"
Jesus asks the blind beggar this extraordinary question: 'What do you want me to do for you?' The very fact that Jesus asks this question indicates two important things about him.
First, his compassion. One of the things that's continually astonishing about Jesus is the way that he sees and responds to the needs of those around him, even when he's in extremis himself. Because we mustn't forget what's going on here. Just look up the page to 18.31:
"And taking the twelve [that's the disciples], he said to them, 'See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spat upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.' But they understood none of these things."
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 and ruthless empire had devised: crucifixion. There's glory ahead for Jesus, yes. But suffering came before glory. At this moment Jesus was heading into the worst suffering that any man has ever experienced, because 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 yourself, you'll know how the whole of your energies tend to get focussed down on yourself - your own struggle, your own survival. You don't have the energy left to reach out towards others in need. Not so with Jesus. You would have expected him to be far too preoccupied to be compassionate towards a noisy beggar by the road. But no. He ordered the man brought to him. The compassion of Jesus is an amazing thing – not least when you're on the receiving end of it yourself. "What do you want me to do for you?", asked Jesus.
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 has a rope to pull you out with. And Jesus isn't just compassionate towards the beggar – and us. He has the power to do something about our predicament. There is no way that Jesus will listen to the blind man's cry and reply, 'Sorry, can't do that. I'm not up to it.' Jesus can do anything he wants to do, because he has all the power of the one who created the world, who sustains it, and who rules it as its King.
The blind beggar was beginning to get a grip on this fact. "Son of David", he keeps calling Jesus. Meaning what? Meaning Messiah – the long-awaited, divinely appointed King in the line of David who would come back to God's people and put things right for them and for the world. "Son of David" really means saviour of the world.
The beginning of the letter to the Hebrews says 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."
Jesus is that Son of God, whose word is so powerful that it can create the universe out of nothing. When you respond to Jesus' question, "What do you want me to do for you?", lack of power on the part of Jesus is not an issue.
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?
The desire in the heart of this blind beggar was basic. He wanted to be free of a debilitating physical condition that had seemingly wrecked his life and forced him into the wretched existence of a beggar on the streets of first century Palestine. When he came near, Jesus asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord, let me recover my sight," he replied.
What would you have replied? 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 cured the blindness of this man. What are you going to ask him for?
Of course, Jesus won't do something for you that's basically evil and that's going to damage you or others. And when he acts 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 for that yet.' And his perspective is the perspective of eternity, not of the next half hour.
But he does satisfy our deepest desires. So how does that happen in your life? Well this blind beggar who gets healed is an example for us. What does he do – and what should we do? My next two main headings sum that up. So my next main heading is simply this:
2. Call Out To Jesus
Here's Luke again:
"And hearing a crowd going by, he enquired what this meant. They told him, 'Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.' And he cried out, '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 among us – walking down Northumberland Street or wherever. But he's still accessible to us – in fact far more accessible than he was to the blind man. The bible passage I quoted from Hebrews earlier about who Jesus is goes on:
"After making purification for sins, he 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 the blind man that are basic to the success of his plea to Jesus. We need to notice them. They are aspects of his faith, that Jesus commends. In our very different situations, we need them too.
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. But presumably, humanly speaking, he must have been listening to the talk on the street. He must have heard people talking about this Jesus who was creating a stir and bringing out the crowds. He must have heard tell of Jesus' extraordinary and authoritative teaching. He must have got excited as he heard about all the miracles of healing that Jesus was performing.
So what can you do to get this basic understanding of Jesus, if you haven't got it yet?
For a start, you can ask questions of those you know who know Jesus better than you do. 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. Read the whole of this Gospel of Luke. Get into one of our small groups so that you can read the Scriptures and learn together with others.
I joined a similar kind of group many years ago when I was at school. I was about fourteen. In a quiet way, 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 lifestyle – 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, which it sometimes is, I often wonder how people who don't know Jesus get through the day without his love and guidance.
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 39:
"And those who were in front 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 in the neck and that he was too insignificant to warrant Jesus's attention. But he wouldn't be deflected.
We all have to learn the art of ploughing on, whatever those around us may think or say about the course we've set ourselves on. Don't let sniping comments from others get to you and force you to back down. You'll never get what you want if you just turn away as soon as the difficulties begin.
And notice as well that the blind man 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. There was no question of a secret approach for him. But for us, because for a while at least we can pray in secret, its easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can keep our faith a secret from others, and be a closet believer. In the end, though, just as this blind man had no choice but to be upfront about what he was doing, so must we. Being a Christian is a public business.
And then, we have to open up not just with other people, but with Jesus himself. The blind man answered Jesus' question directly. He dared to express what was the deepest desire of his heart. 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 shock him. 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.
Know something of 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. "Lord, let me recover my sight," the blind man says. Verse 42:
"And Jesus said to him, 'Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.' And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God."
So my final main heading is just this:
3. 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 to solve your problems and then reject him as the all-powerful King who has the 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 he has planted within our hearts. That's why he went to the cross and died the death that we deserved. But in the process, he transforms our priorities, so that following Jesus and glorifying God become more important to us than any self-directed concern.
Everyone is 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. Jesus took control of this man's life, and he takes control of ours. And what happened to him caused others around him to praise God also.
So never imagine that calling out to Jesus and being a believer is a recipe for the instant fulfilment of our self-centred dreams. In any case, the first thing that comes into your mind when you're asked what you want out of life may well not be the thing that would really satisfy you. One Premiership footballer said:
"Sometimes I would play a big Premiership game – my dream come true – but still I would come home feeling a bit empty… I found myself thinking there had to be more to life then what I was experiencing. A friend took me to church and through getting to know Jesus Christ I gained a peace that money cannot buy and fame cannot replace."
If you call out to Jesus you might not get the one thing that you think you need above all else – like a place in a Premiership team or whatever the equivalent is for you. 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, through suffering to glory.
When you've met with Jesus, and heard his voice calling you, and experienced his compassion and his power, then your deepest desire becomes to know and serve him better with the whole of your life. And the request that we might be given the privilege of doing that is one that is always received with delight by Jesus.
What do you want? What is your deepest desire? Whatever it is, call out to Jesus in faith. He will hear you. He will take control of your life, just as he ordered this blind man to be brought to him. He will take away your spiritual blindness and give you everything that you need. Then follow him all the days of your life.