My guess is that most of you don’t pay much attention to who wrote the songs that we sing every Sunday morning, but I want to tell you a little bit about one of the hymnwriters. Her name is Fanny Crosby and Fanny is thought by some to be the greatest hymnwriter in the history of the church.
Over the course of her lifetime, she wrote over 8,000 hymns, even though she didn’t start until she was 44 years old. Some of her more familiar hymns include, “To God Be the Glory,” “Blessed Assurance” and “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.” At one point in her life, she was writing as many as six or seven hymns a day.
The story of her life is a fascinating one. Fanny Crosby was born in 1820 in a small one-room cottage. She never knew her father because he died when she was one year old. To make life even more difficult, when Fanny was six weeks old, she caught a slight cold in her eyes. The family physician was out of town, so another country doctor was called in to treat her.
He prescribed hot mustard packs to be applied to her eyes, which instead of healing her, destroyed her eyesight completely! It was later learned that the man wasn’t even qualified to practice medicine, that he was just posing as a doctor. He left town and was never heard from again, and Fanny was left to spend the rest of her life blind.
Surprisingly, Fanny wasn’t angry. She later said, “I have not for a moment in more than eighty-five years felt a spark of resentment against him, because I have always believed…that the good Lord…by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do.”
And that was pretty much her outlook throughout her life. Fanny never became bitter about her blindness. One time a preacher said to her, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you.” Her reply was this, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition [of God], it would have been that I should be born blind?” The preacher asked her, “Why?” Fanny said, “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that I’ll see will be that of my Savior!”
Fanny Crosby had two characteristics that relate to the person in scripture that we’re going to be talking about this morning. The first was her blindness, the second was her passion for God.
When scripture talks about having a passion for God, there are a couple of terms that are often used to describe that passion — hunger and thirst. For example, in Psalm 42, the Psalmist said, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2).
In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)
Passion for God involves a hungering and a thirsting on our part where we want to be close to God, so much so that it becomes the consuming passion in our lives. It’s the only thing that really matters to us, it’s the only thing we think about.
The problem with most of us, though, is that we don’t really know what it means to hunger or thirst. We don’t know what it means to be physically hungry because we seldom miss a meal. And I’m concerned that we really don’t know what it means to be spiritually hungry either.
Because what the Psalmist described and what Jesus talked about in the Beatitudes is something deeper than that just dragging yourself out of bed to get to church on Sunday mornings. It’s a passion; it’s a hunger. It’s something that consumes our thinking so much that we can’t think of anything else.
People who are hungry have a way of making the people around them uncomfortable at times. Think about babies. When babies get hungry, they cry. They want to be fed. And they don’t care who they bother in the process. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3:00 in the morning and you haven’t had much sleep for a week. If they’re hungry, they’re going to cry and they won’t quit until that hunger is satisfied.
If babies get hungry in the middle of worship, they’re going to cry. They don’t care how much it bothers everyone else. It doesn’t matter who’s sitting next to them. They could have the President of the United States on the seat next to them. It wouldn’t make any difference.
Because hungry babies aren’t intimidated by anyone else’s opinion. All they know to do is to cry out to the best of their ability, “Somebody feed me!” When you’re truly hungry, you don’t care who you might be bothering. You aren’t concerned about what other people think about you. All that matters is that you get what you’re hungering for.
We’re going to look this morning at a person who had an encounter with Jesus that will show you what I’m talking about. But first, turn with me to Luke chapter 19. We begin with the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Verse 37, “As he was drawing near — already on the way down the Mount of Olives — the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
“ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’” (Luke 19:37-39)
“Jesus, the way your disciples are behaving is making us uncomfortable. We don’t think it’s appropriate behavior. You need to tell them to stop shouting. You need to tell them to stop praising you. Make them stop worshipping you.”
But, in verse 40, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Jesus said, “I refuse to rebuke these folks.” These were people who were hungering to express their praise for Christ. They couldn’t hold it in. They didn’t care that it was bothering the Pharisees. They just wanted to offer their praise to the Son of God.
When that kind of hunger surfaces, many of us begin to feel a little awkward. And it’s because most of us are uncomfortable with that amount of intense hunger. And so, we’re content to spend an entire lifetime sitting very quietly, listening to the word being preached, singing our songs of praise, but we don’t want anybody to get too excited about it. And so, if somebody raises their hands to worship God, or if somebody feels the need to let loose an “amen” or a “hallelujah” or if, heaven forbid, anybody dares to clap in their excitement for God, we want to put a stop to it immediately. Teacher, rebuke your disciples!
But Jesus appreciated the fact that this crowd was hungering and thirsting for God.
Let’s back up now to a few days before that triumphal entry and take a closer at one of the men that Jesus met on his way to Jerusalem. We read about him in three of the gospels, but it is Mark who tells us his name – Bartimaeus. Matthew and Luke simply tell us that he was a blind man.
Bartimaeus wasn’t partially blind. He was totally blind. He couldn’t see the look of love and kindness in his mother’s face. When a pile of camel dung was in the road, he couldn’t see to step over it. He couldn’t see the ditch. He couldn’t see the low-hanging branch. When the night sky above Jericho was bright with a million stars, it was all darkness to him.
The beauty of birds and butterflies and rainbows and flowers and trees and little children were all withheld from him. At night when he closed his eyes and in the morning when he opened them again, it was all the same — utter blackness. That was the world Bartimaeus lived in. He was blind.
Blindness today is bad enough but it was so much worse in Jesus’ day. Today, a blind person at least has the hope of living a useful life with proper training. Braille opens up opportunities for education. Some of the most skilled and creative people in our society are blind.
But in first century Palestine, blindness meant that you were subject to absolute poverty, forced to beg for a living. You lived at the mercy and the generosity of others. And so Bartimaeus was completely dependent upon those who would toss him a few coins so he could buy enough food to survive another day. He had nothing to sell. He had no service he could perform.
Add to this the fact that he hardly even had his own identity. We know him as Bartimaeus, but that wasn’t really his name. The prefix “Bar” means “son of”. And so Bartimaeus simply means, “the son of Timaeus”. So, we don’t even know his real name. That’s probably because people just referred to him as “that’s Timaeus’ son, the blind kid”.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to live without the ability to see. Even worse, to be relegated to a life by the side of the road, constantly crying out while the whole world passes by on the road to somewhere else.
Bartimaeus was marginalized. He got used to the idea that he really wasn’t important and that he had no value. Most people looked at him with disdain. He was viewed as being stupid and ignorant, actually kind of a nuisance to society. People didn’t see his struggle. In fact, they didn’t care.
Bartimaeus would cry out to those who passed by, “Alms. Alms for the poor. Pity on a blind man.” If someone was feeling especially generous, maybe he got a coin in his cup. But, more likely, he would receive a lecture from the religious leaders on all the sins he had obviously committed to have ended up with this disability. That’s what life was like for Bartimaeus. Until Jesus showed up.
We pick up in Mark chapter 10, verse 46: “And they came to Jericho. And as [Jesus] was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:46-48)
This day probably started out like any other – with Bartimaeus sitting by the side of the road with his cup held out as usual. There were all the normal and familiar sounds. But this day had the potential to be different. Because Passover was coming, and that meant the crowds in the streets would be larger — maybe this would be a more profitable day than usual!
Meanwhile, a crowd had gathered around Jesus as he was on his way to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. Whenever a well-known teacher was on such a journey, it was customary for people to gather around him and listen to his teachings along the way.
He was unable to see, but Bartimaeus must have noticed the rising crescendo of voices. His ears would have picked up the sounds of excitement coming from hundreds of different voices. Then, the sound of the footsteps as the crowd moved closer. With his curiosity aroused, the beggar needed to know what was going on. He may have turned to someone who could see and asked,
“What’s all the noise? What’s going on?”
“Oh, it’s that fellow Jesus. He’s passing through town.”
“You mean that Jesus? The Jesus from Nazareth, the one we’ve heard so much about?”
“Yeah, it’s that Jesus.”
Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus. No doubt, people had told him about his teaching and the miraculous healings that he had performed. Many times he must have thought to himself, “If only I were in the presence of this Jesus, he could heal me too!
And so, his hunger increased in much the same way that your hunger is increased when you smell fresh cinnamon rolls or bacon frying early in the morning. Only his was not a physical hunger. The hunger that Bartimaeus felt came from wanting more than anything else to have the opportunity to speak with Jesus. This may have been the first time he had ever been this close. And he may never have the chance to be this close again.
He was determined not to miss his moment. He thought to himself, “I’ve got to do something to attract his attention.” He wasn’t worried about what other people might think. He wasn’t worried about making folks around him uncomfortable. He just wanted to be with Jesus.
And so he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Notice the reaction of the people around him. They warned him to be quiet. They tried to shut him up. How dare he interrupt their Passover celebration!
“We’re on our way to the Holy City; we don’t have time to stop for a blind beggar!”
“Don’t bother the Master, he’s got more important things to do than to deal with you!”
“Be quiet, Bartimaeus! We have guests in town. Don’t make a scene. We don’t want them to think the beggars are taking over.”
It reminds me of what the city of Atlanta did when they hosted the summer Olympics back in 1996. Before the games began, they tried to remove all the homeless people in the city because they didn’t want their city to look bad when the visitors showed up. These officials from Jericho probably wished they had done the same thing.
But do you catch the irony here? This is the religious crowd. They’re on their way to a religious festival! These are people who are listening to Jesus talk about the kingdom of God! But they’re uncomfortable when somebody in their presence is really hungry. It offends them that Bartimaeus would dare to cause such a commotion.
If Bartimaeus had listened to the people around him, everybody would have been happy, everybody would have stayed in their comfort zone. But Bartimaeus would have missed his opportunity to be with God. And just like a baby, people who are really hungry don’t worry about upsetting others. Rather, they will continue to express their need until that need is satisfied.
So Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The name, Son of David, indicates that Bartimaeus believed that Jesus was the long-awaited king. This was the Messiah. The crowd that was following Jesus didn’t seem to be aware of that. But Bartimaeus, who had the limitation of not being able to see, that person that everyone else thought was stupid and ignorant, he somehow perceived, sensing more than everybody else, that this Jesus was the one whom God had promised to be the King of the Jews.
But, when Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus, the people around him didn’t say, “Good for you, Bartimaeus! Jesus can help you. Call louder.” Instead of helping him, they rebuked him and told him to shut up! You may find that when you are bold enough to cry out to Jesus, not everyone is going to be excited for you. In fact, there will be some people who will rebuke you and discourage you.
Because our culture has the idea that it’s okay to be a little religious, but if you become a radical follower of Jesus Christ, you’re not going to fit in any more. And so, people may ridicule you and tell you to shut up.
Mike Yaconelli once wrote: “Threaten others with a loud and boisterous faith, and you will be politely (at first) asked to quiet down; dance your faith instead of sitting still in a pew, and you will be asked to leave; talk about your faith with passion and you will get expressions of concern about the inappropriateness of your emotions.”
But Bartimaeus kept crying out until Jesus heard him. Luke 18:39 tells us, “he cried out all the more.” There are some interesting Greek words here. In verse 38, when Bartimaeus first called out, Luke used the word boao which means “to call out in a loud voice.” But when everyone told him to be quiet, Bartimaeus turned up the volume. In verse 39, the word translated “cried out all the more” is krazo. It’s a word meaning “to scream.”
It’s obvious that Bartimaeus was not going to let this opportunity pass him by. And here’s the beauty of this story. When Jesus heard the cry of this blind man, he stopped in his tracks.
Verse 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.’ And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” (Mark 10:49-52)
This scene is absolutely incredible. A blind man is standing in front of the Creator of the universe. And Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Without hesitation, Bartimaeus says, “Lord, I want to see.”
I want out of the darkness. I want out of the shackles of these blind eyes. I want to see.
I want to get off the roadside. I want to walk the streets of Jericho without running into its walls. I want to look into the shops. I want to find my way to the synagogue. I want to see.
I want to use my hands for something other than feeling my way in the dark. I want to make things. I want to fix my own meals. I want to read. I want to see.
I want to look into the eyes of a friend. I want to wave at someone across the road. I want to smile at children and pat their heads and wish them well. I want to love. I want to laugh. I want to live. I want to see.
Immediately, Jesus recognized what those four words meant to this man. And he showed him favor and said, “Receive your sight.”
Jesus heard the desperate cry of this one man over all the other voices in that crowd. And he refused to go any further until he met this man’s need. Jesus was attracted to Bartimaeus’s words because he saw them to be a cry which came out of a heart of passion.
The people around Bartimeus said, “Calm down. Be quiet.” But passion told this lowly beggar that this was his day for a divine encounter, so his reply may have been, “You’re not the one who is blind; you’re not the one who needs help. I know that the Son of God is near, and I’m not going to let him get this close and pass me by.”
It is significant to me that Jesus entered the city of Jericho and passed all the way through to the opposite side without stopping for any of the religious leaders. The Son of God stopped his journey to the cross just to answer this blind man’s desperate cry and to open his eyes. And I want you to know that God is still willing to answer the cries of hungry beggars.
I wish more of us in the church would get tired of just standing on the sidewalk of spectator Christianity while Jesus passes by. Somebody needs to get hungry enough to cry out. Somebody needs to get desperate enough to cry out to heaven and say, “I’m not going to let you pass me by, Lord. I thank you for what you havedone in my life, but I’m desperate for what you cando, and I need you. I can’t live without you.”
And if we are to learn anything from Bartimaeus, it is that God rewards those who are passionate about him. I’ve always been fascinated by Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:12 when he said, “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” (NIV) What Jesus is saying there is that the kingdom of God is not for those who are half-hearted. It is for those who passionately pursue God with all their hearts.
God said to the people of Israel, “You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). So, I raise this question — How much of that passion do you have in your life? How interested are you in knowing God and being close to God? Because your answer to that question will determine how much God is a part of your life. You may come to worship every Sunday, but are you actively, passionately seeking God? Are you satisfied to get just a small dose of God, or do you feel like you just can’t get enough of being with God?
There’s one more thing that I think we can learn from Bartimaeus – this blind, destitute beggar sitting on the side of the road in Jericho. He was the one person who was most vocal about proclaiming the glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, despite his disability.
We often feel inadequate because of our limitations. I don’t know what your limitations are. For some of us, it’s a physical limitation. For others, it’s a limitation of your abilities. For others, perhaps, it’s a limitation caused by certain people in your life. We all have problems that cause us to say, “Because of these limitations in my life, there’s only so much that I can do for God. I can’t do what other people can do.” But, Bartimaeus reminds us that God is not limited by our limitations.
At the beginning of this lesson, I told you about Fanny Crosby, the blind hymnwriter. During her lifetime, Fanny was often asked the question, “Why hasn’t God healed you?” And her response was always the same: “God could have done nothing better for me than to give me blindness. Because by my blindness he has shut me in with himself and I have learned more about the love of Jesus than if I could see.”
And today, we are the ones who benefit from her disability. Because of the way she allowed God to use her to express her praise through writing hymns.
All of us, from time to time, become aware of our limitations, and when that happens we need to recognize, like Bartimaeus, our need for God’s grace, and only when that happens, will God begin to work in us and through us.