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Posts Tagged ‘mercy’

The literary structure of Mark 2:13-17

We’re in the Gospel of Mark today, looking at the call of Levi and the subsequent meal in his home. This is the second in a sequence of five stories of conflict. Last time the conflict was over Jesus’ claim to forgive someone’s sins. Today it’s his practice of sharing fellowship with sinners.

Let’s jump right in –

Mark 2:13-17

v. 13- “He (Jesus) went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.”

As we have seen, Jesus was a celebrity, especially because of his ability to heal. Crowds followed him everywhere. He was always getting mobbed. And so here he takes advantage of this to continue to teach them about the coming of the kingdom of God (1:15).

v. 14 – “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth. . .”

[Notice the parallels with 1:16-20, the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John: Jesus took the initiative, he was “passing by”; it took place beside the sea; Jesus saw; there is a reference to occupation; the call “follow me”; and an immediate response of leaving their occupation]

It’s interesting that in the first gospel the name of the person in this story is “Matthew,” not Levi. And there’s also a James the son of Alphaeus, who is one of the twelve. Most likely Levi and Matthew are the same person. And perhaps Levi/Matthew and the apostle James, the son of Alphaeus were brothers. It’s hard to know how it all fits together with the information we have.

In any case, Levi was a tax collector (technically a toll collector). Specifically he would have been employed by someone to collect customs fees and road tolls. He most likely had a booth along the road through Capernaum, which was a significant trade route (the Via Maris from Damascus to Caesarea). The money would go to his boss, who would give the proper portion to Herod Antipas, who ruled in Galilee.

Tax collectors were despised and treated as outcasts, for several reasons. I’ll mention just two. First, they were seen as collaborators with Rome, Israel’s oppressive overlord, since they worked for Herod, Rome’s installed puppet leader. And also they were often dishonest and charged too much, to increase their own income. They are associated in the New Testament with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), extortionists, the unjust, adulterers (Luke 18:11) and Gentiles (Matthew 18:17). None of these kept the Law of Moses and all of them were classified as “sinners.”

So Jesus sees Levi sitting at his toll booth, doing his work.

v. 14 – “. . . and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

When he says, follow me, Jesus is asking Levi to leave his current life behind so that he can travel with Jesus, learn from him and minister with him, just as he has already done with Peter, Andrew, James and John.

It’s possible that Levi had previous interactions with Jesus. Peter did before his call from Jesus, even though Mark doesn’t tell us about them. So it’s possible. Either way, Levi makes a radical break. He leaves his career behind. We will see in a moment that he had a house. But one can also wonder, was he married? Did he have kids? Was he supporting his parents? Whatever his exact circumstances, he had to sacrifice to follow Jesus in this way.

v. 15 – “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

[Jesus is a bit like David here collecting outcasts to himself – 1 Samuel 22:2].

The references “he” and “his” in the first phrase are vague. But it’s best to say that Jesus is eating in Levi’s house (Luke 5:29). Usually you would sit to eat. It was only for a special meal or banquet (Luke 5:29) that you would you recline, that is, lay on cushions or a couch and eat off of a short table.

“Sinners,” as we saw,  is a broad term that covers Gentiles and also Jews who don’t keep the Law of Moses in significant ways. Maybe they aren’t even trying. It’s a lifestyle of sin.

What’s going on here is that Levi, now a committed worker for Jesus, has invited his friends and coworkers, fellow tax collectors and sinners, to meet with Jesus, and to hear his message of the kingdom.

Many tax collectors and sinners were interested in Jesus and many “followed him,” our verse tells us, perhaps in the crowds that followed Jesus around, or perhaps as repentant disciples. (As Jesus said to the Jewish leaders in Matthew 21:31, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”)

And Jesus freely joins in with them in this feast.

v. 16 – “And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”

The scribes of the Pharisees, or experts in the Law, want to see what’s going on. A meal like this would’ve been public knowledge in a small town like Capernaum. And they aren’t happy with what they see. They ask Jesus’ disciples, “What in the world is he doing?”

That’s because the Pharisees took a separation approach to sinners. The righteous must be separate from those that are morally or ritually unclean. And the walls of separation must be maintained. And they especially applied this to who you ate meals with.

To be with sinners (especially to eat with them) is to send the wrong message; one of condoning their disobedience to God. And in ancient cultures to eat a meal with someone did convey open fellowship with each other.

And then there is the concern that if you are with them you will be contaminated by them, through ritual impurity for sure, but also by means of bad moral influence.

Perhaps they even said, “if sinners want to repent, they know what to do according to the Law of Moses. Let them get their lives in order first. Then we’ll fellowship.”

So Jesus’ actions were disconcerting and threatening to their way of looking at things. He isn’t playing by their rules.

v. 17 – “And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

Jesus uses a common proverb to make his point: What good is a doctor who never goes around a sick person? Of course doctors have to be with them. How else can they help them? In the same way Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance and kingdom entrance; he calls them to be made whole. This is precisely why Jesus came. God sent him to do this.

Now, when Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” he acknowledges that there is a difference between a person who seeks to follow God and when they fail, finds forgiveness and moves forward – and a person who isn’t even trying to follow God; sinners who live a lifestyle of sin. And Jesus speaks of those who are righteous (Mark 6:20; Matthew 10:41; 13:17; 13:43; 25:37; Luke 1:6; 2:25; 23:50).

But we also have to acknowledge that with the coming of Jesus even these relatively more righteous ones are called to repentance in light of the fuller revelation of God’s will that he brings. (Just as those with faith in God are called to have faith in Jesus and his bringing forth the promise of the kingdom.) (This saying is similar to Luke 15:7, given in a very similar context, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance.”) (The Pharisees saw themselves as righteous – Luke 18:9, but Jesus often pointed out the ways that at least some of them failed in this regard.)

Instead of a separation approach, Jesus took a redemptive approach to sinnersYou have to be with them to give them the message of new life. Yes, this can seem scandalous because people might think that you’re condoning sin, or even sinning yourself. But the point is to be able to share the message of the kingdom and repentance and forgiveness and new life. So it’s worth the risk.

Instead of sin contaminating him, Jesus saw his love and truth as able to transform them; to make them well. Righteousness is contagious, not sin. Yes, you risk ritual impurity, and you do have to be careful of moral influence if it’s an area of weakness for you. But other than this, it’s worth the risk.

It’s no wonder that so many people responded to Jesus. They were used to rejection and scorn. And this didn’t lead to their transformation. But now Jesus comes to them, and he comes with grace – “I know you’re sinners, even notorious ones, but God is offering you the kingdom too. Repent and you can enter in and have new life.”

Let’s end with –

Some questions

 How do you treat sinners? Are you more like the Pharisees or more like Jesus? Here’s a test: There was a Christian man who went to biker bars so that he could be with those who needed Jesus. God put them on his heart. He sought to befriend those he could, to show them the love of Jesus. But when others in church found out about it they were shocked! John goes to bars every Friday night! We’ve never heard of such a thing. What’s he thinking? That’s not a place for good Christians to hang out. He should be thinking about his witness!

Do you agree with John or those in his church? Whose concern for witness is more genuine – John’s actual witness to people or the church’s concern for mere reputation?

Jesus calls us to be with sinners, not stay away from them. Unless, of course you have a weakness, that particular people or circumstances might tempt you to give in to. Short of this we are called to be with them, not just to hang out with each other, the “well” ones; those that we are comfortable with in the church building. We are to be with them so that we can share with them about Jesus, his love and his grace.

And this is not just about outside the church. Sinners should be welcome in our church. Do people have to clean up their lives before they come to church? No! Church is the place they need to be, to be able to get clean and be transformed by Jesus.

Do you introduce your friends to Jesus? Levi’s an excellent example. He immediately invited everyone he knew to a banquet so that they could meet Jesus and hear his message. In what ways might you connect your friends and co-workers to Jesus?

Are you struggling with sin? Are you stuck in a lifestyle of sin? If this describes you, Jesus comes to you today and he comes with love and grace. He comes to offer you new life; a new start; forgiveness. He comes to you as the good physician to make you well.

What must you do? Receive his grace. Be like Levi, repent of your sins and give yourself fully, radically and sacrificially to follow Jesus. This is the path to wholeness. I encourage you, respond to Jesus today.

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I’m doing something a little different this morning. Earlier we spent several weeks on our series Jesus and Nicodemus. And we have just now finished several weeks on our series Jesus and the Samaritan woman. And what I want to do this morning is to bring these stories together and compare them to see what we can learn.

By looking at the Gospel of John we can see that –

We are meant to compare these stories

This is because of the way John has arranged his gospel, putting them side by side, as it were. They are paralleled to each other. Here is an overview of literary structure of John 2-4:

A. Water to wine in Cana – 2:1-12. Galilee [sign 1]

B. The leaders of Jerusalem in conflict with Jesus – 2:13-22. Jerusalem

C. Conversation with Nicodemus – 2:23-3:21. Jerusalem

D. Jesus baptizes more than John – 3:22-4:3. Judean countryside

C1. Conversation with Samaritan woman – 4:4-27. Samaria

B1. Many in Sychar believe – 4:28-45. Samaria

A1. Healing of child in Cana – 4:46-54. Galilee [sign 2]

[For the detailed outline go here.] You can see that Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are coordinated. And this pairing extends to include the temple scene in Jerusalem – Nicodemus’ community, just before his conversation with Jesus, and the Sychar scene in Samaria – the Samaritan woman’s community, just after her conversation with Jesus.

But not only this there are also similarities in the stories themselves that should lead us to compare them:

We have two extended conversations of Jesus with an individual in close proximity.

In both, Jesus’ knowledge of them is a theme. With regard to Nicodemus, in the setup to the conversation it says, “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them (partial believers like Nicodemus), because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about a person, for he himself knew what was in a person.” (2:24-24). With regard to the woman he knew of her various relationships with men, including her current sinful one, that she tried to hide from him (4:16-18).

–  Both Nicodemus and the woman begin by misunderstanding Jesus in an overly literal way. He took “born from above” as born again; and that as a literal physical rebirth (3:4); she took “living water” as another natural water source better than Jacob’s well (4:12, 15).

–  There is some similar content as well: In both, Jesus talks about the Spirit – being born of the Spirit with Nicodemus, and the living water of the Spirit with the Samaritan woman. And in both he speaks of eternal life.

So there are a lot of indicators that these stories are meant to be compared together.

When we do compare them –

The expectation of what should happen is clear

One is “set up” to anticipate how they will each respond to Jesus based on a series of clear contrasts between them:

To begin with the obvious – 1. He was a man. She was a woman. In that day men were favored and teachers normally didn’t even talk to women.

2. He is namedShe is not named. His name, Nicodemus is given. She is simply “a woman of Samaria” (4:7).

3. He was a Jew. She was a Samaritan. He was a part of the right group,  whereas she was a part of a despised group with wrong beliefs and practices.

4. He was righteousShe was a sinner. He was a Pharisee and they were known for being rigorous and devout. She was living with a man who was not her husband.

5. He was honoredShe was an outcast. He was a ruler and enjoyed a high place in his society. She was by herself at the well most likely because she was rejected by the other women of Sychar.

6. He was educatedShe was uneducated. Jesus calls him a teacher. She would have had little training, as was the case for women in that day.

So he has everything going for him; he is the cream of the crop. She has nothing going for her; she is the bottom of the barrel; an outcast from an outcast people. Clearly the expectation is that Nicodemus is the one who will respond to Jesus as they converse together; he is the one who will get it.

But the reality turns out to be quite different

This is already foreshadowed by the mention of the time of day when these conversations take place, for light and dark are symbolic in John’s gospel. Light stands for God’s truth and darkness for the realm of the evil one and ignorance of God’s truth (1:5). She came to the well “about the sixth hour” or at noon (4:6). He “came to Jesus by night” (3:2)

She makes no claim to know who Jesus is, but ends up knowing quite a lot by the end. He thinks he knows a few things about Jesus, but is admonished. He said to Jesus, “We know that you are a teacher from God” – 3:2. But Jesus said, “are you the teacher of Israel and you don’t understand these things?” – 3:10. He got shot down.

She misunderstands at first, but recovers. Her questions become more focused and Jesus engages with her and answers her. He never recovers from misunderstanding. He asks “How” questions that reveal his astonishment and inability to follow what Jesus is saying.

She remains active in the conversation. She came to almost hold her own with Jesus. He fades out of the conversation. His remarks get shorter and shorter. In Greek he moves from 24 words (3:2) to 18 (3:4) to 4 (3:9) to nothing.

She progresses in her understating of Jesus. She first just saw him as a Jew and called him “sir.” Then she perceived him to be a “prophet.” Then she receives from Jesus  a clear revelation of his identity as the “Christ.” He makes no progress and is frustrated.

She becomes a disciple doing God’s work. He does not believe. As Jesus said, “you do not receive our testimony” (3:11); and “you do not believe” (3:12).

She brings others from her community to faith in Jesus. He does not. His community remains marked by unbelief or inadequate faith.

My point in all of this is that –

These two stories illustrate kingdom reversal

That is, how the coming of the kingdom turns things on their head. Jesus talks about this a lot in the first three (synoptic) gospels.

Speaking to those who expected to be blessed when the kingdom came, he said in Luke 13:28-30, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves cast out. (So they will be out, but others who are not expected to be in will be in) And people will come from east and west, and from north and south (from the whole world, not just Israel), and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

The coming of the kingdom turns things upside down. What is assumed and expected is not always true. And this is certainly the case here.

She is the one who responds correctly to Jesus.

  •  although she was a woman, and not a man
  • although she was unknown, and not named
  • although she was an outsider, and not an insider
  • although she was a notorious sinner, and not devout
  • although she was an outcast, and not honored
  • although she was uneducated, and not a scholar.

Although she is a lowly one from a lowly people, she is the one who gets it!

Now it does appear that Nicodemus came to real faith later. [We find him trying to stand up for Jesus among the authorities (7:50) and he is involved with burying the body of Jesus, a job for a disciple (19:39). But apparently it was a difficult and long process for him.] But here, at this time – she is the one who responded to Jesus and received his blessings.

Let’s end with –

Some lessons for us

that come from Jesus,  and that John wants us to get from how he tells these stories side by side.

In light of how the kingdom can reverse things 1. Don’t judge others! In Luke 6:37 Jesus says, “judge not” and also “condemn not.” He is teaching us that we should never write others off as beyond God’s mercy, as beyond God’s redeeming grace. No matter how they might appear to us with our expectations and assumptions – we can never make that call. It is not our place to say that someone is already judged and set aside.

2. We too should invite all to hear and receive of the gospel, just like Jesus in the story of the Samaritan woman. Just like Jesus said in Matthew 9:13, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

We can’t let our expectations and assumptions about who might respond to Jesus get in the way. God is busy bringing all kinds to himself. It is our job to be merciful and open to all who might come to Jesus to find living water and eternal life. And so we invite all to do this.

3. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t measure up to expectations of who might respond to Jesus. Maybe you’re like the Samaritan woman who didn’t have anything going for her in terms of human assumptions about who God wants.

But don’t be discouraged, be encouraged! You are the very person that God loves deeply. You are the very person that Jesus is seeking after. God wants you to come to him and know him. God wants to touch your life so that you are transformed and blessed.

William Higgins

 

 

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Last week we talked a bit about the topic of forgiving others from Mark 11:25 and how this affects our prayers getting answered. I want to pick up this theme of forgiveness today and remind each of us of this important teaching from Jesus. And I want us to do this by focusing on the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-25.

We will go through this passage in two different ways. First by means of an impromptu skit . . ..

Second, let’s go through this passage adding in some historical and cultural background to help us understand it.

Matthew 18:23-35

First of all, this is a parable of Jesus that tells us about how the kingdom of God works.

And also, all through it, economic terms are used to talk about how sin and forgiveness work. This was fairly common. Sin is seen as a debt that we owe to God that we cannot pay (Matthew 6:12). And also it can be a debt that we owe others – how we should have treated them but didn’t. Forgiveness, then, is to release someone’s debt, whether it be God or us releasing the debt.

“23Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”

The servant here works for the king in his royal court. And he owes the king a great deal of money. There are different ways to estimate this, but using our minimum wage, by my calculations he owed 3 billion 480 million dollars. [A denarius equals one day’s wage, which at minimum wage is $58 for an eight hour day. One talent equaled 6000 denarii, which then equals $340,000. Ten thousand talents then equals $3,480,000,000.]

This was an astronomical amount. For instance, all of the province of Judea only paid 600 talents in taxes for a whole year to Rome. But he owes 10,000 talents. Today we might say it like this – he owed a gazillion dollars.

“25And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.”

Being sold into slavery because of unpaid debt certainly happened in the ancient world. In this case his whole family and all his belongings were to be sold – although this would not even begin to touch the debt that he owed his master.

“26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

He calls out for mercy, somehow thinking that he can pay off his debt. And then surprisingly, the king has pity on him. He doesn’t even set up a payment plan, he wipes out the debt entirely. He is completely forgiven.

“28But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.”

A hundred denarii would be $5,800 [A hundred days wages at $58 a day]. So the amount here is mind bogglingly lower than what he had owed his king.

When his fellow servant pleaded for patience, like he had, he completely disregards it. The fellow servant is sent to a debtor’s prison, where he would stay until he came up with the money, or his friends or family paid up for him.

“31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.”

The king’s servant is found out. He is rebuked by the king. His former debt is reinstated. And he is put in jail.

The word for jailers is actually “torturers.” The idea is that he will be tortured until he comes up with the money. Maybe he has some hidden somewhere.

But since his debt is insanely large, and since he would now have no friends to help him given his behavior, he will be in jail forever.

Jesus then bring home the point of the parable – “35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

God has forgiven us, and so we are to forgive others, Jesus says, “from your heart.” That is, not just outwardly, pretending or smoothing things over, but truly releasing their debt to us.

And if we don’t do this, God will treat us like the king treated the servant he had previously forgiven, which is a clear warning to us.

Let me highlight now –

Three key points

– from this passage, and from the teaching of Jesus on this topic in general. 1. We are to forgive those who sin against us.

  • Matthew 18:35 – “forgive from the heart”
  • Luke 17:3 – “forgive”
  • Luke 17:4 – “forgive”
  • Luke 6:37 – “forgive”
  • Mark 11:25 – “forgive”
  • Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4 – in the context of the Lord’s prayer, we acknowledge that “we have forgiven our debtors.”

If someone comes to us in true repentance and asks (here begs) for mercy, Jesus tells us to forgive. Don’t hold their debt over them. Don’t hold their sin against them so that you seek to punish them. Don’t hold on to bitterness and resentment.

2. Why should we forgive? It is, after all, often very difficult to forgive. We are not just talking about trivial things here. This has to do with people who truly mistreat and wound us, and those we love.

This causes pain and anger, and we naturally want justice. So we have to work to give this pain and anger over to God so that we can find love and a heart of mercy for the one who has done wrong.

This is not easy, or necessarily a one-time event. It is often a process. And certainly the relationship will need time to heal and to rebuild trust, especially if the wound is severe.

When Jesus presented his teaching on forgiveness in Luke 17 the disciples responded by saying “increase our faith,” because they thought that this was impossible to do.

So with all this, why should we forgive? The answer is that if you don’t, you will not be forgiven. This is what Matthew 18 teaches. In fact, the servant’s former debt was reinstated in full.

  • Luke 6:37 says, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” The reverse being clear that if you don’t, if you condemn, you will be condemned.
  • Mark 11:25 tells us that we must forgive, “so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
  • Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

And when our sins are not forgiven this destroys our relationship with God. Just as with the servant in our story in relation to his king.

3. Why won’t God forgive us, if we don’t forgive? Certainly what the servant did was wrong. This is why when the others heard about it, they were “distressed.” And this is why the king called him “wicked” in v. 32

It was certainly self-centered. He wanted mercy for himself because that benefited him. And he wanted justice for his fellow servant  because that benefited him. He was always guided by his self-interest. 

And he certainly didn’t understand that one who has been forgiven has no ground to stand on to ask for justice. To receive grace is to acknowledge that you yourself can’t live up to the standard of justice. And so to demand it for others is to undercut the very grace that makes your life possible.

But at the core we are bumping into a fundamental principle of the kingdom of God. Our relationship with God is always interconnected with our relationships with others. They affect one another back and forth.

 •  So when God forgives us we are to forgive others. And if we do this, God will continue to forgive us. Our relationship with God affects our relationship with others. As the king tells the servant in v. 33, “should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And as Jesus said in Luke 6:36 – “Be merciful even as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

 •  But if we treat others with justice, then this is how God will treat us. As Jesus said in Luke 6:38, measure for measure. The measure you give to others is the measure you will get from God. Our relationship with others affects our relationship with God. If you give mercy to others, you will get mercy from God. If you give justice to others, you will get justice from God – and your sins will be held against you.

So let’s not be like the unforgiving servant. But rather let us be merciful to others, just as we have received mercy from God.

William Higgins 

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Last week we began to look at the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” from the story of Cain and Abel. And we saw how even though Cain asked it to try to avoid any responsibility for his brother, the question actually has to be answered with a “yes.” Cain did have a responsibility to his brother. And as well, we all have responsibilities to our brothers and sisters, and neighbors.

We also spent a good deal of time looking at Scriptures that show that we are to care for and help our neighbor – especially those who are weak and in need.

Well today, I want us to look at a specific example of suffering and need, one that has been on my daughter’s heart for several years now. And then we will look at some ways to respond.

Marie: Darfur comprises the three westernmost regions of Sudan, the largest country in Africa. 99% of the population is Muslim and most speak Arabic. They are mostly rural farmers. The people of Darfur have been marginalized since Sudanese independence in 1956 when power was given to the northern Arab elites. They deliberately tried to keep Darfuris out of school. There were no hospitals, roads, schools or economic systems in place. They had no political representation, and were left poverty-stricken.

Omar al-Bashir, the dictator of Sudan has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for 7 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and 3 counts of genocide and extermination.

In 2003 rebel groups from Darfur attacked the capital, Khartoum. After some successful attacks in spring of 2003 the government responded by killing the Darfuris. They hired an Arab militia called the Janjaweed which literally translates to “devils on horseback.” The government gives them uniforms, money, arms, plunder, livestock, land and impunity. They even let criminals out of jail and pay them to burn villages and slaughter their fellow  countrymen.

There are many different forms of oppression there. They suffer starvation because their crops and livestock are burned. The government poisons their water supplies by stuffing dead bodies down their wells. The government denies access to humanitarian aid and even kicked out 13 of the major groups last spring. The militias and the government adhere to a scorched-earth policy in Darfur. Women and girls are forced to get water and firewood for cooking, but then face the risk of being raped. If the men go, they will be killed so the “better alternative” is having the women go since they only get raped. Government planes bomb their own peoples’ villages. Then once the survivors flee to a refugee camp, they are bombed there as well. The Darfuris suffer abductions, torture and murder. Facial mutilations are also common by other terrorist militias that haunt Darfur.

The dead are estimated to be between 400,000 and 600,000 and 2.7 million people have been displaced thus far. These results are devastating especially considering that Darfur only has a population of 6 million.

Now there are so many situations in the world and, no doubt, others of you would focus on a different one, because God has put that on your heart. But this gives us an example to work with. And I think it will help us to see what we can do with a tragedy that is far away from us. You know, when it’s in your neighborhood you can just roll up your sleeves and get to work. But so often the need is an ocean away.

There are certainly ways to work at this through earthly political mechanisms. That is, trying to get the United States government, the United Nations or the African Union to act to address Darfur. But this isn’t what I want to talk about. If you want to learn more about this you can find ample resources on the internet.

My purpose is to help us see what we can do precisely as Christians, with the resources of the kingdom of God to help those in Darfur; to be our brother and sister’s keeper.

1. Pray for God to act

We know that, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” – Psalm 103:6. And “The Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.” – Psalm 140:12.

And so we should call on God to be true to his nature and intervene to bring the suffering to an end. Remembering that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16.

Here are some things to pray for in Darfur:

1. For the evildoers, both individuals and governmental powers, to be put down; that is to lose their power to harm and kill.

2. For resources to meet the material needs of those who are suffering and the refugees.

3. For peace and healing for the many who are broken and traumatized by this war. Even if the war were to end today the effects would go on for decades. And there will be great need for work at healing.

2. Help to relieve suffering

Now, God might well call some of us to go and help with the situation in Darfur. To be there in person. But apart from this, any of us can give resources from here to be shared in Darfur and with the refugees.

And Jesus teaches us to give to those with needs. He said, “give to the needy” – Matthew 6:2; and “give to the poor” – Luke 12:33.

Jesus also told the story of the Good Samaritan who helped one who was not like him. The people of Darfur are different than us.  And he told us to “go and do likewise” – Luke 10:37. The people of Darfur are different than us. They are Muslim and speak Arabic.

Paul says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone . . ..” – Galatians 6:10. And in context he is saying, don’t just help fellow believers, also help others.

If you would like to give toward this need, you can give to Christian Aid, a British interdenominational Christian aid organization, which does work in Darfur. (Freepost, London, SE1 7YY; or online at christianaid.org.uk/give).

3. Speak out in the name of the Lord

This particular tragedy is not the result of a natural disaster or an accident. The suffering in Darfur has come from the hands of humans. And so there is an element of human sin that needs to be addressed in our response and which must stop for the suffering to stop.

Now when I say speak out, I’m not referring to politics. I am talking about representing God’s point of view on what is going on in Darfur. We speak in the name of the Lord to name the evil that is being done; to call for repentance, and to warn of God’s judgment on sin.

It is not right or Christian to know of and to watch great evil happen while saying nothing. This is a way for you to make your voice heard as a representative of the kingdom of God.

The prophets did this, for instance Amos speaking to rulers in his day. And  Jesus did this speaking to the authoritative teachers and the leadership of Jerusalem – Matthew 23:13-36. And we should also speak up when there is need.

I have written a letter to send to the government of Sudan, and I am going to sign my name to it. If you would like to add your name, just let me know.

“To the Government of Sudan – Hear the words of the one, true God: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4.

Hear the cry of those who suffer in Darfur – innocents including women and children. So many have been terrorized. So many have died. So many are refugees. God calls you to change your heart and bring this to an end!

But know this, if you do not hear their cries, God does. And God will incline his ear “to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” Psalm 10:18.

And God hears the blood of the innocent as it cries out against you even now. And God will not forget what has happened. “For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” Psalm 9:12.

Will you hear what God says? Then weep for your evil deeds. Humble yourself before the Lord. Lift up those who are bowed down, and bring healing to those you have broken.”

Finally, and more radically, there is –

4. Intercessory suffering

We talked about this in the Sunday School class on loving enemies, but let me say a few words about this.

It goes like this. When you suffer oppression, instead of returning evil for evil, endure it and call on God to act for you. And God will act to bring justice. This is biblical nonresistance, as I understand it (or cruciform holy war).

We see God acting to bring justice in the story of Cain and Abel. Even though Abel suffered death, God said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” – Genesis 4:10. And then God judged Cain.

We also see this in Jesus’ words in Luke 18:7-8. “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”

And you can do this on behalf of others, this is the intercessory part, by going to suffer with them and calling on God to act.

This is what Jesus did for us. Jesus came and suffered with us without returning evil for evil. Rather, he called on God to act for him. And both spiritual and political powers were brought down:

  • Satan was cast out of heaven – Revelation 12:9
  • And the authorities that killed Jesus were judged in 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed, as he predicted -Matthew 23:32-24:2.

Alright these are some specifically Christian ways to respond. And I certainly encourage you to respond as the Lord leads you.

William Higgins, Marie Higgins

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“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I begin with a question today, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Or to say it another way, “Are you your brother’s keeper?” And, of course, the question refers to both brothers and sisters.

This question is a haunting one. It challenges us to think about our responsibilities to others. And whether we have kept them, or not. It comes from –

The story of Cain and Abel

This is a familiar story, from Genesis 4. Let’s remember it together:

  • They both brought an offering to the Lord
  • God had regard for Abel’s. But God did not have regard for Cain’s, who was the older brother.
  • Cain became angry and depressed.
  • God counseled Cain to do well and to beware of sin.
  • Cain, however, murdered his brother while they were in the field together
  • So God confronted Cain, “Where is your brother?” Now, of course, God already knew what had happened, but he is inviting Cain to confess and take responsibility for his actions.

And this brings us to –

The question

– which is our focus. Cain responded to God, “I do not know (where Abel is); am I my brother’s keeper?’” – Genesis 4:9.

First of all he lies. He knew where his brother was. And second his question communicates his belief that he has no responsibility for his brother and his well being. This belief shows up clearly in that he could murder Abel, and yet evidence no hint of sorrow; there is not a shred of guilt in any of his responses.

But let’s look at the question more closely, because there’s a lot going on here. The word “keeper” means “to watch over, to guard, to have charge of.”

  • It is used in Genesis 2:15 of Adam as the keeper of the garden of Eden – which was his full-time job as it were.
  • It is used in Genesis 3:24 of the angel that constantly guarded the tree of life to keep Adam and Eve away from it.

So Cain uses this word to exaggerate what God wants from him. What he is saying is that, “Hey, I can’t be expected to keep up with every detail of my brother’s life! That’s not my full-time job; I’m not his body guard.” And he asks the question in this way because he’s seeking to evade any responsibility for his brother.

But even though he asked it as a way of avoiding responsibility, the question has a way of coming back to condemn him nevertheless. That’s because even though Cain is not responsible for every aspect of his brother’s life, he does bear responsibility to care for him and help him. And in this regard he failed in the worst possible way.

So the answer to the question is actually, “yes.” Cain did have a responsibility to his brother. And we have a responsibility to help and care for our brothers and sisters, that is to say our neighbors – especially when they are weak and in need.

This point is made abundantly clear in Scripture, and I want you to see this, so we are going to look at a lot passages. We begin with –

The call to be our brother and sister’s keeper

This shows up in different ways in Scripture, but it is certainly clear in the command to love our neighbor. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to act for their good; for their well-being. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus expands this to cover all people when he teaches “love your enemies.”

We are especially to help and care for those who are weak and vulnerable. Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” In Acts 20:35 Paul says, “We must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” And in I Thessalonians 5:14 Paul says simply, “help the weak.”

Now let’s look at some specific –

Examples of being our sister and brother’s keeper

We are to care for the needs of widows and orphans. Exodus 22:22 says, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” Isaiah 1:17 says, “Bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” James 1:27 tells us that we are “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction . . ..”

We are to care for immigrants, most of whom are, by definition, weak both economically and socially. Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself . . ..”

We are to care for the disabled. Deuteronomy 27:18 says, “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.” Rather we should help the one who is disabled.

We are to honor the poor. James 2:9 indicates that if you dishonor a poor person, “you are committing sin.” Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.” Rather we should give honor where others give disdain.

We are to give food, clothing and shelter to the needy. Ezekiel 18:7 gives a description of a righteous person. Among other things, he “gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.” Isaiah 58:7 teaches that true fasting means to stop all oppression and “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him.”

In Luke 3:11 John the Baptist said, “Whoever has two tunics (or items of clothing) is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’” In Luke 12:33 Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” We are to do this instead of storing up our excess wealth for ourselves.

We are to give the poor economic assistance. Leviticus 25:37 says, “You shall not . . . give him your food for profit.” That is, sell your food at cost.  Leviticus 19:10, speaking of gleaning says, “You shall leave [some of your harvest] for the poor and for the sojourner.”

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor . . . you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Exodus 22:25 says, “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor . . . you shall not exact interest from him.” Jesus sais in Luke 6:35, “Lend, [even to your enemies] expecting nothing in return.”

We are to invite the needy to share in our celebrations. There are several examples of this in the Old Testament. This one has to do with the tithe feast. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 says, “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled . . ..”

In Luke 14:12-14  Jesus said, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Alright we have spent quite a bit of time looking at this in the Scriptures, because I want to ground this truth in God’s word. And that truth is that we are indeed our brother and sister’s keeper. We are to care for and help others, especially when they are weak and in need.

But you might say, Pastor,

There is so much need in the world!

And it is easy to get overwhelmed. Just the crises of one week, like flooding in Pakistan and landslides in China are enough to overwhelm. And then you have things like the gulf oil spill and Katrina which continue on for years.

So, yes, it is easy to throw up your hands and say, what can I do? But we have to be careful that we don’t do something similar to what Cain did. We can’t use the vastness of the need as an excuse; as an out for not acting; for not taking responsibility.

It’s true we can’t do everything. But we can do something. We can help some people. And we can care for some needs. And that is what God asks of us.

Next week we will look at a specific example of suffering, and talk about what we can do.

William Higgins

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We are bringing our series on ‘How to overcome sin in our lives’ to a close today. Our focus has been on how to get rid of our sinful behaviors and habits which enslave us and keep us from experiencing all that God has for us.

And the message has been that there is freedom in Jesus! We can overcome. We can be fee. We can walk in the fullness that God has for us.

I have been sharing all of this with you so that you won’t sin. It is very much like what John says to his readers in 1 John 2:1, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” But then he goes on to address the reality of failure. He says, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” – 1 John 2:1-2. (NRSV)

If you do fail and fall into sin, John teaches us that Jesus can help. He died for our sins, so that we can be made right with God. And he is our advocate before God, seeking out God’s mercy for us; interceding for us.

But we also need to do something in order to receive what Jesus provides for us; to experience restoration and renewal. So today we look at –

What you must do

– when you fail and fall into sin.

1. Be honest. Our natural human response is to hide our sins and live in denial. Or if we can’t do that we find excuses for our sins, or we deflect attention away from our failure by focusing on the faults of others. We all see this kind of stuff a lot.

But a true mark of repentance is honesty. You must be absolutely honest with yourself first of all. Because without this you can’t make any progress in Christian faithfulness. And then you must be honest with God and others.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Honest confession leads to mercy.

2. Take responsibility for your actions. This means that you own your actions; they are yours. You don’t shift the blame to other people or circumstances or whatever. You are accountable.

After committing terrible sins, David prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me . . . you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” – Psalm 51:3-4. He’s saying, ‘I did it. And whatever negative consequences come my way are my fault. Because I’m the one who did wrong.’

We see the same thing in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. When he came back and wanted to make things right with his father, he said, “Treat me as one of your hired servants” – Luke 15:19. He was ready to live there as a servant. He knew there were consequences for his actions. And he had squandered his share of the family estate.

Now, his father – in love and grace – accepted him back as a son, not a servant. But notice, he still lost all that he had, for all the rest that the father had was the elder son’s now, and that would not change.

So there are negative consequences that come on you when you sin. You reap what you sow. And you need to take responsibility for all this, because it’s a result of your actions.

3. Express your sorrow. When we fail and fall into sin, we cause God and others pain. And when we realize this it should cause us to be sorrowful. We should feel it, and have regret.

After James calls his readers to repentance he says, “Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection” – James 4:9. (NRSV) Paul calls this “godly grief” in 2 Corinthians 7:10, which is a part of the process of repentance.

4. Stop the behavior. There is no healing with God or others if you don’t turn from your sin.

You know the person who wants mercy, mercy, forgiveness, forgiveness – but doesn’t want to change anything in their life. This isn’t repentance. It’s manipulation.

If you have failed, what you must do is resolve never to do this sin again, and to do everything necessary to make this happen. All the things we have been talking about in this series.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “he who . . . forsakes his transgressions will obtain mercy.” Ezekiel 18:30-32 says, “Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. . . Turn then, and live.” When you stop the wrong behavior, then you can receive “mercy” from God and others; you can “live.” When you don’t, “iniquity will be your ruin.”

5. Ask God to forgive you. Ask God for mercy to pardon you. And this is the time to be truly honest with God, taking responsibility, expressing your sorrow and committing to stop the wrong.

Pray like the tax collector in Jesus’ story, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” – Luke 18:13. Or you can pray from the Lord’s prayer and personalize it – “Forgive (me) us (my) our sins” – Luke 11:4.

God’s promise to us is this: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – 1 John 1:9. And we can hold on to this promise knowing that God will keep his word to us – to forgive, to cleanse and to renew us.

6. Seek reconciliation with others. If your sin involved hurting others, a part of dealing with it is that you seek to make things right with them as best you can. Again this is the time to be honest, to take responsibility, to express your sorrow and to commit to stop the wrongdoing.

Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24 (NRSV). Prioritize making things right with the one you have wronged, even over worship of God. First go and be reconciled to your brother or sister; seek forgiveness. Restore the relationship damaged by your actions.

Now also, if you have harmed someone in a way that can be restored, make amends. The example of Zacchaeus’ repentance speaks to this. He was a wealthy tax collector who was despised because he made his profit off charging more taxes than were necessary. When he repented he said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” – Luke 19:8. He tried to make things right. He made amends. And he is an example to us.

What should you do when you fail?

1. Be honest

2. Take responsibility for your actions

3. Express your sorrow

4. Stop the behavior

5. Ask God to forgive you

6. Seek reconciliation with others

This is how you get back on track. Not giving up because you have failed. Not wallowing in despair. But repenting in all these ways. And then moving forward with what God’s will is for your life.

Psalm 51 (1-4; 7-12; 16-17)

I want would like to end with a prayer of repentance from David in Psalm 51. He knew how to repent and we can learn from him.

L: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

P: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

L: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

P: Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

L: Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

P: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

L: For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.

All: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

William Higgins

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Today we are looking at the story of the healing of Bartimaeus. Let’s begin by working our way through this, as Mark tells it.

The story

v. 46 – “And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd . . .”

This gives us the setting. Jesus was leaving Jericho on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. This was a time when many pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem – and this explains the crowd that is going along with Jesus and his disciples.

But this was not an ordinary Passover for Jesus. He was bringing his mission to its completion. As he said to his disciples in Mark 10:33-34, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man 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.”

Jericho was about 20 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Pilgrims from Galilee would come south, around Samaria. And at Jericho they would cross into Judea and them move on to Jerusalem.

So then, as Jesus was leaving Jericho, traveling this route – v. 46 says, “Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside.” Bartimaeus, being blind and without help, was reduced to being a beggar. Waiting for others to come by to give alms so that he could have what he needed to live.

Despite all that was happening with Passover coming and the festivities and people coming and going – Bartimaeus wasn’t going anywhere. He was sitting by the roadside, hoping that the pilgrims were especially generous.

v. 47 – “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!’” Once he learned that Jesus was nearby, he acted. Apparently he had heard of Jesus. He calls him by name and uses a title – ‘Son of David’ – that points to an understanding of Jesus as the Messiah.

And he didn’t just call out once. It says, “he began to cry out.” He must have continued to repeat – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

It must have been loud and persistent because v. 48 tells us, “And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” He was causing quite a fuss and making people upset. So they tried to silence him; to make the annoyance go away.

What was his response? v. 48 says, “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He didn’t let the crowd discourage him at all, but continued calling out to Jesus, if anything, more loudly.

v. 49 – “And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.’” Even though Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to bring to fulfillment his whole life work and the crowd was with him and they were moving forward toward the goal – because of Bartimaeus’ cry of desperation, Jesus stopped. Two amazing words. Jesus made time for him. Jesus stopped to listen to him.

vs. 50-51 – “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?’” Bartimaeus’ eagerness and excitement come out in how quickly he comes to Jesus.

Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Have mercy on me” is the typical call of a beggar. Jesus is discerning what Bartimaeus wants – alms or something more.

Also, it’s important to note that when Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” – he isn’t offering him a blank check, you know, ‘I’ll give you whatever you want.’ This is actually the same question that Jesus asked James and John in v. 36 in the story just before ours, when they wanted to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in the kingdom. But Jesus told them no.

vs. 51-52 – “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.” Bartimaeus’ request was granted.

Jesus tells him, “your faith has made you well.” Now this doesn’t mean that Bartimaeus healed himself, or that all that Jesus did was help Bartimaeus heal himself. Jesus healed him by the power and authority that God gave him. When Jesus says, “your faith has made you well” he is saying, your faith in me as the Messiah has made you well. Jesus is the key.

Bartimaeus recognized Jesus as the Messiah, as the one who could help him, and he acted on this. This was his faith. And because of it he was transformed. He was miraculously healed, but not only this. He went from sitting by the roadside, going nowhere – to following Jesus along the path to Jerusalem, a participant in what God was doing.

Alright, lets look at some –

Lessons

– we can take from this. 1. Jesus is the one who can help us with all of our problems. He is the Messiah; the one with the power of God to deliver, to heal and to make whole. Bartimaeus was right to look to him for help. And Jesus can transform us as well, making us whole and giving us new direction.

But not only does he have the power to help us, he is full of mercy and wants to help us and bless us. Jesus demonstrates his kindness and mercy by stopping to help Bartimaeus. And Jesus will be merciful to us as well, if we look to him.

2. Faith involves bold, persistent asking. Bartimaeus teaches us this. In v. 47 he cried out to Jesus for mercy. And in v. 48, when the crowd tried to silence him, he cried out all the more.

This is a picture of boldness. He did not care what others thought. And it is also a picture of persistence. He cried out until he got Jesus’ attention. He was a beggar and he knew a thing or two about how to ask for things! And so we learn from him.

In v. 52 this boldness and persistence is what Jesus called his “faith,” which made him well.

This same point about faith as bold persistence is made in other places in the gospels. Remember the Canaanite woman, who argued with Jesus until he agreed to help her? Jesus said that her bold persistence was great faith. Remember the story Jesus told about prayer in Luke 11:5-8? The man asked his neighbor for bread in the night and had his request answered only because of his bold persistence.

So this all teaches us how to pray; how to ask God for something. We are to be bold and persistent in our prayers.

Like with James and John in the story before this one, our faith doesn’t guarantee that our prayers will be answered. But if it is something that is according to God’s will, our boldness and persistence can be the difference.

Think of it. There were no doubt other blind beggars that allowed Jesus to walk on by. And they received nothing. We must be bold and persistent in our prayers.

3. Jesus has time for us. As we learn in the story, though Jesus was on his way to fulfilling his destiny, he had time to stop and help Bartimaeus with his need.

And so it is still. Jesus reigns from the right hand of God. And although such things are beyond our comprehension, I’m sure Jesus is quite busy overseeing and drawing all of history to its fulfillment. But Jesus still has time to stop; to listen to us, and to help us.

——————–

I encourage each of you this morning, whatever your need might be, take the time to look to Jesus. Call out to him boldly and persistently. Like with Bartimaeus, he has time to hear you and to help you.

William Higgins

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