“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” (Mark 10:46-52)
A young man, who had worked for several years on the railway, was keen to apply for a job as a signalman. For his interview, he was told to meet the inspector at the signal box. The inspector asked him, “What would you do if you realized that two trains were heading toward each other on the same track?” The young man said, “That’s easy. I would switch the points for one of the trains.” “The inspector then asked, “What if the lever broke?” The young man said, “Then I’d jump down out of the signal box and I’d use the manual lever over there.” Next, the inspector said, “What if the lever had been struck by lightning?” The young man said, “Then, I would run to the signal box and phone the next signal box to let them know what was happening.” The inspector continued on, “What if the phone was busy?” The young man said, “Well, in that case, I would rush down out of the signal box and use the public emergency phone at the crossing up there.” Then, the inspector said, “What would you do if the public emergency phone had been vandalized?” The young man said, “Oh, well, then I would run into town and get my uncle.” That answer puzzled the inspector. So, he asked, “Why would you go get your uncle?” The young man answered, “That’s simple. Because he’s never seen a train crash before.”
Ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change talks, this week, the Prime Minister said, we have 50 days to save the world. More and more people today feel that life is headed toward a crash. Like two trains headed directly toward each other, we may feel there is really little we can do to stop it from happening. A crash seems inevitable. Maybe you feel the same about your marriage, your finances or your work. Maybe you feel like you are heading for a financial crash or a relational crash. Whatever it is, life seems headed somewhere you really don’t want to go. You may be asking “Is there any way to avoid the crash before it happens? Is that how you feel today?
Please know that there is. There is hope. There is an answer. There is a way out. A crash is not inevitable. Where do we find that answer? Where do we turn? How do we stop the crash? In our gospel reading today God shows us how one man’s life was miraculously changed when he encountered Jesus. In this story, God shows us how life can be turned around if we come to Jesus Christ. The man in the story was named Bartimaeus. By all accounts he had very little going for him. Mark tells us that he was stranded on the outskirts of Jericho. He may have even lived on the streets. There did not seem to be any way for him to break the cycle. Why was Bartimaeus in this condition? First of all, Mark told us that he was blind. I cannot begin to imagine being blind. Unable to see a picturesque sunset…a starlit night…or the smiling face of a child. Mark leads us to believe that Bartimaeus had been blind for some time. We also know that Bartimaeus was poor. Because he was blind, he could not work, he had to depend on others. All he could do was to sit by the roadside, begging, hoping travellers would spare him a few coins. His future looked gloomy.His life expectancy was not good. Bartimaeus was a man who simply survived one day to the next. His major concern in life was simple survival. That is, until the day a special passerby, Jesus, came along. Jesus gave Bartimaeus something money could not buy…a gift that would change his life forever. Now, what can we learn from Bartimaeus? What can we learn from him that will help us get plugged in to the plan that God has for our life? How can we move beyond merely surviving and start thriving? I want to share with you three ways.
1. Capitalise on God’s Providence
To move from surviving to thriving, we must learn to capitalise on the opportunities God provides for us. There is no such thing as coincidences. God has a plan for our life. He has a purpose.Capitalise on providence. Bartimaeus did just that. When he heard that Jesus was close to him, he shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” (Mark 10:47). Now, what triggered that request? Was he simply begging as he had always done? How did he know of Jesus’ miraculous powers? How did he know that Jesus was coming? We don’t know for sure, but however he knew about Jesus, Bartimaeus sensed that he had an opportunity to get help and he acted on the opportunity. Bartimaeus pleaded with Jesus. Little did he know that this request would turn out to be his best request ever! Bartimaeus capitalized on the opportunity placed before him by God.
Let me illustrate. Do you know how Levi Strauss started out? Levi Strauss really has become a household name today. However, not in the way he intended. Like many others in the 1840s and 50s, Levi Strauss went to California in hopes of making his fortune. He went to California to look for gold. Now, he did make a fortune, but not the way he had planned. Strauss left his home with a load of heavy canvas fabric. Strauss planned to sell his fabric for tents and wagon covers. When Strauss set up his place of business, the first miner who came in said, “You should have brought pants.” Strauss, who had been in California for only a few days, had no idea what the miner meant. So, the miner explained to Strauss that there weren’t any pants strong enough to endure the arduous conditions of mining. What did Levi Strauss do? He immediately took the heavy canvas fabric that he had brought with him and made the miner a pair of work pants. Within days, Levi Strauss struck gold. Not the bright, shiny gold found in the ground or rivers, but the gold of opportunity. There’s an important truth that we must understand at this point. Opportunities only become opportunities when we embrace them as providential. God’s providential rule over our circumstances, sometimes in response to our prayers, often in spite of our plans, is for our welfare. God cares about you. opportunities must be seized, grabbed, accepted, taken.
Bartimaeus accepted the opportunity that was presented by Jesus. What opportunity is God placing before you today? God could be calling you to accept Him as your Lord and Saviour. Today, God could be calling you to recommit yourself to a walk with Him. Today, there may be a place of service in the church that God wants you to fill. Maybe God is calling you to get involved in a ministry in our community. What ever your circumstances, capitalise on God’s providence.
2. Minimise Other People’s Unbelief
To move from striving to thriving we must not only capitalise on God’s providence, we must also minimise the negative voices of the crowd around us. Notice the crowd’s reaction when Bartimaeus cried out for help. Mark said, “Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet.” (Mark 10: 48) You see, the crowd had Bartimaeus stereotyped. In their eyes, he would never be anything more than a blind beggar. In their eyes, he would never be anything but poor. The crowd thought: Why would this Rabbi want to waste His time with such a loser? We can easily do the same thing today when we judge people by what we see on the outside. What they wear, what they drive, where they live… I appreciate Bartimaeus’ reaction. Did you notice what he did? Bartimaeus persisted. He would not give up. Mark said, “He shouted all the more, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Bartimaeus was not going to let a bunch of negative, critical, heckling bystanders rob him of his dream of sight.
In around 1802 Robert Fulton invented the steamboat. When he first presented his new invention, he had plenty of critics crowded on the river bank. The critics yelled, “It’ll never start, it’ll never start.” Fulton proved them wrong. After a lot of clanking and groaning, the steamboat started up and moved down the river. The critics were quiet momentarily. Then they rallied together and started yelling, “It’ll never stop, it’ll never stop.”
The lesson is – never try to please those who would criticize us. Why? Simple. We will never be able to do so. When you are criticized, when you face the negative crowd, remember Bartimaeus. Use it. Grow from it. Move forward despite it. Don’t let it hold you back. Capitalise on God’s providence. Minimise other people’s unbelief.
3. Exercise the faith you do have
Notice, Bartimaeus’ boldness grabbed Jesus’ attention. His boldness and enthusiasm were almost impossible to miss. It was Bartimaeus’ faith that triggered Jesus’ healing power. Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Go, your faith has healed you.” (Mark 10:52)
Bartimaeus knew exactly what he wanted. For that reason, he did not hesitate to speak to Jesus about it. But listen. Through prayer, we have this same privilege. The Lord said in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Paul told us in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” But remember this. Requesting something of Jesus or speaking to Jesus is not enough. Complete faith is obedient faith. Mark tells us that when Bartimaeus received his sight, he “followed Jesus along the road.” (Mark 10:52) Imagine the impact his testimony would have had on others. “I was blind but now I see.” Genuine faith is contagious faith. Genuine faith cannot wait to tell others, to point others to Jesus, to what Jesus has done, to follow Jesus. Don’t just survive, thrive! This week you will thrive as you capitalise on God’s providence, as you minimise the influence of other people’ unbelief and as you exercise the faith you have in the Lord Jesus Christ. Lets pray.
With grateful thanks to Steve Hartshill and a sermon of his called “Don’t just survive…thrive” for some of the ideas and inspiration behind my own.