If you knew that you were going to meet someone important, say a CEO of a company, or an athlete whom you admire, would you prepare yourself? Would you think carefully about what you’d wear? Would you maybe spend a few extra minutes in front of the mirror pulling that rogue hair on your face that you usually leave unattended or maybe stick some floss between those teeth that are usually only flossed once a year by a dental assistant? Maybe you’d think about what you’d say and how you’d say it. Craft a few jokes. Keep a few current events up your sleeve for idle conversation. By being prepared you will have confidence and will likely impress or at least not embarrass yourself in front of someone whom you consider important.
Now imagine that important person you were going to meet arrives unexpectedly at your home early in the morning – catches you off guard. Your breath stinks. Your hair is a mess. Your attire unimpressive. How much confidence would you have in front of that person? How prepared would you feel? And yet today a roadside blind beggar was more prepared than anyone to meet the most important person to ever cross his path. His name was Bartimaeus.
Long ago he had cast off shame. Long ago he came to accept his need, humbled by his own personal hardships in a life long spent in a fallen world. We’re told he was the son of Timaeus, for whatever that’s worth because there he was on the road blind and begging. And there on that road this man heard something, Jesus of Nazareth was passing through. But he knew, Bartimaeus knew, this wasn’t just Jesus of Nazareth. He didn’t have time to prepare what he would say, yet he didn’t hesitate. He shouted. And what he shouted, what he cried out is one of the most beautiful prayers in all of Scripture. It was a confession wrapped with need. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
In that shout Bartimaeus revealed that he knew who Jesus was, not just some man from Nazareth, but the promised man from David’s line, the Messiah, his Savior; the Savior who came to bring mercy. And Bartimaeus wasn’t too proud to beg for what he needed, “Have mercy…”. Even when rebuked, even when told to be quiet, he refused to stop but only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” This roadside beggar had his prayer, and he had a promise. He wasn’t about to let the promised Messiah walk by without hearing that prayer and keeping that promise.
You and I, we can learn something from this roadside beggar, we can learn from Bartimaeus because we are Bartimaeus. Each of us is a roadside beggar. Completely unworthy and unprepared to be in the presence of the Son of David, the promised Messiah. We are unworthy in that we are all sinners, born beggars, spiritually blind. And this makes us woefully unprepared to be in the presence of a holy God. Unworthy to even call upon his name. But I think there is something else here too because you and I we know that we have that a Savior, we know his name, and we recognize clearly our sin.
So I think the question is what is our reaction to our sin? What do we do when the guilt and the shame of our greed or our pride, or our desire begins to bother our conscience? Often, we are tempted to do the opposite of Bartimaeus. Often, instead of going before God with shouts for mercy and compassion we decide instead to entrench ourselves in those things that we take sinful joy in and demand that God accept the way we’ve chosen to live, or, perhaps more likely, we ignore the need we have and carry on as if God will overlook those things which he commands us not to do. Yet, God does not ignore sin. He condemns it.
But you know maybe for many of us, it’s the opposite. And maybe it’s that realization that makes us truly feel like a roadside beggar all alone and unloved? And we start to wonder when that shame of sin is too great and that guilt to deep. Maybe we wonder, how can I call out to God? How can I ask him for mercy? Look at me! I’m pathetic. I don’t deserve his attention. I don’t deserve his forgiveness. And so we don’t call out. We don’t shout to the Savior who asks us to do that very thing. Instead we sit on that roadside feeling sorry for ourselves, telling ourselves that God could never love someone like me.
But then we go back, and we see what Jesus did for poor roadside beggars such as ourselves as we hear Jesus’ response to blind Bartimaeus. Look what Jesus did! “Jesus stopped” God stopped for a roadside beggar and said, “Call him.” And we see this scene unfolding as the followers of Jesus go and get that beggar and tell him to “Cheer up! And to get on his feet.” And you personally hear those next words, “He’s calling you.” (Sigh).
There we see our Savior. There is his love for a sinner, for a roadside beggar. There is his love for us as he calls us to come to him. He is a compassionate God. We who are unworthy, who are roadside beggars cry out and Jesus hears, not noise, not annoyance, but the prayer of his child even when that child feels faithless and undeserving. In those moments Jesus stops and he gives you his full attention. And you see that attention as you look at the cross and know what he gave for you, a promise. He gave you his life, a sacrifice for sins as he became the source of eternal salvation for the world, for you. And now he calls you to himself.
For the blind beggar Bartimaeus, Jesus’ call was a moment of pure joy. “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Bartimaeus didn’t need to be told to cheer up, he was already on his way, this was the greatest day of his life. He knew who Jesus was and what he came to bring. He cast off his clock and jumped to his feet – can you imagine that sight – and off he went to stand before his Savior.
In prayer, we get to stand before our Savior. There is joy there. There is peace as God doesn’t send us away. Let us then cast off our cloaks of sin, our pride the embarrassment, the uncertainty, and let us run with joy to Jesus whom we know so well. This is the promised Messiah, this is my Savior and he wants to hear from me. What an invitation. God, the creator, cares about you, a roadside beggar. He wants to answer your prayers. He wants to keep his promise, to forgive your sin and make you his own so that he might bring you home to be with him forever.
Now there he stands, Bartimaeus. He had cried out for mercy and surely Jesus knew and heard his plea. Yet, Jesus asks the question “What do want me to do for you?” The beggar wanted mercy, but he already had that. There he was standing on his feet before God, looking him in the eye, as a person, not an annoyance, not an outcast, but a welcome guest of the promised Savior. The incarnate Jesus was hanging on his every word.
So Jesus gives this beggar the privilege of asking for more. God stopped everything to give this man this moment. Bartimaeus seized it, “Rabbi, I want to see again.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” And immediately this roadside beggar could see. Why? The man trusted, not just anything or anyone, but the right person: Jesus. Bartimaeus didn’t have some super strength faith that tapped into the power of Jesus and brought healing. No, he simply trusted Jesus’ words, his promise. Can I ask us all a question? Did Bartimaeus do anything to win Jesus’ favor? I mean sure he was bold and unrelenting, but what did he do? What did this beggar do to get Jesus’ attention? He knew of Jesus’ mercy and he stubbornly did not let his Savior walk by without hearing his prayer to have a share of that mercy. He got it, and then a little more as he was blessed with his sight.
That’s it. He believed what he knew by faith. He believed what Jeremiah said in our Old Testament lesson that Jesus would lead the blind and lame “on a level path where they will not stumble.” It was Jesus who called him. It was Jesus who healed him. That is the lesson for us. It’s not about what I do, I’m a roadside beggar, a sinner. My begging hands can reach out and try and grab anything that I think will bring me closer to my God, but unless that which I grasp is the hand of my Savior, I’m doomed for all eternity. Thank God that his hand reached out and found mine. Thank God he had mercy on me.
You know there may be times when we feel ill-prepared to go before God. There may be times when we wonder if he will receive us with open arms or whether we will bear the brunt of his anger for a sin still fresh on our minds. But it is in those moments when you are nothing more than a roadside beggar that you find a Savior who is always prepared to call you to himself and offer you forgiveness. That’s who Jesus is, what he has come to bring, and what we do well to beg, and even demand of him. “Lord, have mercy on me” Amen.