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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Luke 18:35 - 19:28; Matthew 20:29-43; Mark 10:41-52

This is the last lesson before we come to the Triumphal Entry, at which the king of Glory presents himself to his people. It is fitting, in a sense, to examine these last three examples in the light of the kingdom. We see them as individuals, but also as patterns of those who enter – and do not enter – the kingdom of God.

Bartimaeus

(Mat 20:29-34 NIV) As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. {30} Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" {31} The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" {32} Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. {33} "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight." {34} Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. (Mark 10:46-52 NIV) Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the 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. (Luke 18:35-43 NIV) As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. {36} When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. {37} They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." {38} He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" {39} Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" {40} Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, {41} "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord, I want to see," he replied. {42} Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you." {43} Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

We see three actors in this little drama by the road.

The crowd

We must imagine the crowd walking beside and behind Jesus, talking as they went, attempting to get him to slow down and stop and teach. So when a beggar cries out (the blind usually subsist in such cultures by begging) it would be normal for the crowd to resent the interruption. In that, however, we can see some of the attitudes the crowd of today has when Jesus is proclaimed.

·         The crowd was not expecting Jesus to do anything. They expected him to teach. It is so with the church today. We do not expect miracles (and perhaps we should be more demanding!) The world expects us to talk, but not to do. Our Lord was not so placid as that. One wonders what would happen if Mother Theresa had not been so unusual.

·         The Gospel is presumed to be correctly preached only to the socially acceptable – those who would know how to dress in their Sunday best. Somehow, it seems odd that we would bring that Gospel to anyone else. After all, church is supposed to be polite. The beggar should know his place – and that place is not in church.

·         But when the Lord responds, the attitude changes. They tell him to take heart, to pick up his courage. I suggest to you that it is so with the church. When we act according to the world’s expectations, we think we will meet opposition if we change. We will meet opposition no matter what we do for Christ. But the ordinary people of the world still can respond to pure love being poured out.

Bartimaeus

(Note: there is some dispute over the correct translation of the Greek. The NAS, KJV and RSV all have “regain” sight as opposed to getting it. The language is somewhat less than perfect to translate. If indeed Bartimaeus was not born blind, he is all the more to be pitied.)

There is some difference in the accounts. For the sake of simplicity, I will simply examine Bartimaeus, leaving to scholars the debate over number of blind and names.

·         His cry is for mercy. He does not ask forgiveness; he asks pity. He does not portray himself as a sinner. Many of us come to Christ like that. I do not doubt that Bartimaeus was indeed a sinner; it’s simply that he was not moved by his sin to come to Christ. He was moved by his physical blindness. So often we come to Christ not from guilt but from anguish. It is comforting to note that Christ does not point out his sin to him but heals him. It would seem our Lord is none too fussy about motive! (Praise God for that!)

·         He is told to “take heart.” This implies that he is afraid of something. I would suggest to you that it is most likely that he is afraid of rejection. A blind man is not one of the “in crowd.” He begs for his living; rejection is a common experience. Now the one man of whom he knows who can really help is passing by; think of the fear that constant rejection would bring!

·         But he does take heart. He “throws off his cloak” – think of a homeless man with his sleeping bag or long coat. It is the one article of clothing he must have, for in Judea (like the Mojave) you can freeze to death at night, even in the early spring. The Mosaic Law required a lender to return a pawned cloak each night for just that reason.[1] It is an act of boldness for a blind man to throw away his cloak. Whatever it takes, we must come to Jesus for salvation.

Jesus

The title used here for Jesus is “Son of David.” It is a messianic title, but also a very human one, for it can mean simply “descendant of David.” It is clearly a title of respect, however.

·         Jesus heals the blind here, and then attributes the cure to their faith. We need to understand this not as “if you have faith in anything it will work” but rather that their faith in God was honored by God. Turn on my faucet, you will get a little water. Turn on a fire hydrant, you will get a lot of water. It’s not the turning that makes the difference.

·         Jesus tells him to go. He knows what lies immediately ahead. But no objection is raised when the man follows. Sometimes in our joy we don’t know the wisest thing to do. Our Lord does, and even so accepts all that will follow him.

Zacchaeus

(Luke 19:1-10 NIV) Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. {2} A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. {3} He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. {4} So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. {5} When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." {6} So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. {7} All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'" {8} But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." {9} Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. {10} For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Again we can see the reactions.

The Crowd

The crowd in the city of Jericho is quite well acquainted with this man. They treat him accordingly – as an outcast. (No matter how much the teacher likes you, if you’re the teacher’s pet life is difficult.) They don’t even let him slip through the crowd to the front of the line. A runt like that wouldn’t block anyone’s view, but that doesn’t matter. Even the people of a conquered territory still have the social power to make outcasts, and that’s what Zacchaeus is.

That, of course, is everyday behavior for them. What really shocks them is Jesus. He goes to eat with the sinner, a man well known as such. How could a prophet do such a thing?

·         We need to distinguish propriety from righteousness. Wearing a tie to church may be propriety (or it used to be); it is not righteousness. Zacchaeus’ behavior is improper; it is socially unacceptable. Speaking to him or eating with him in the cause of salvation is improper. It is righteous, and we need to know the difference.

·         We also need to remember that we, as Christians, have no authority to judge those outside the church. We have our hands full inside.

Outcasts are still with us today. How many of these people will never hear the Gospel because we just can’t bring ourselves to speak to them?

·         First, there are the strange and undesirable. If the clothes aren’t right, or the accent strange, we just don’t know how to speak to them.

·         Sometimes there are those “too high” or more commonly those “too low.” The homeless need Jesus. Sometimes we’re afraid to tell them. Sometimes we’re afraid we may have to show Christ’s love to them.

·         One other form of outcast needs our attention: the unforgiven. Sometimes we will not speak because we won’t forgive.

Zacchaeus – the sinner

It’s important to note that this man knows what it is to be rich. He’s the chief tax collector in a wealthy district. That’s a job that you purchase. It’s a life of kickbacks, of cheating, of intimidation. It is a sleazy life, but it is a rich one. One wonders if the slumlord of today would know this man.

But he is not content with that. Money and power are wonderful, but they are not sufficient, and he knows it. He doesn’t know much about Jesus, but he knows enough to arouse his curiosity. So he goes to find him. There’s a lesson for all of us in that: “seek the Lord while he may be found.”

Most of all, after meeting Jesus Zacchaeus is a repentant man. You can see this is three things:

·         First, he climbed up in a tree to see Jesus. Not exactly a dignified thing to do. The trees in question are often grown as shade trees over the roadway (they produce an inferior fig, and are often associated with the poor as food or firewood). Just in seeking him, Zacchaeus humbled himself.

·         He admits his sin. It’s not obvious in the English phrase, “If I have defrauded…” The Greek, however, carries with it an implication that the “if” means not “maybe I have, maybe I haven’t” but “For those whom I have defrauded.”

·         His action in repentance exceeds the Old Testament Law, which called for the sinner to add a fifth to the repayment. He actually is using the standard of repayment called for in the case of armed robbery.

Jesus

Jesus begins by honoring Zacchaeus – for to invite yourself to someone’s home was, to them, the act of proclaiming that person a worthy host. It carried with it a high degree of social status. Interesting, isn’t it, that God is not particular about what it takes to call the sinner to repentance? So why are we?

Jesus, you see, had a purpose – to seek and save the lost.

·         Being lost was indeed the sinner’s fault. Zacchaeus chose his lifestyle.

·         Being a son of Abraham was not the result of anything Zacchaeus did – he was born into it.

The contrast is clear. We, like Zacchaeus, chose to be sinners. We did it ourselves. The grace of God, however, is something we are “born into” – or more correctly, born again into.

The Parable

(Luke 19:11-28 NIV) While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. {12} He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. {13} So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.' {14} "But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.' {15} "He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. {16} "The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' {17} "'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' {18} "The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.' {19} "His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.' {20} "Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. {21} I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' {22} "His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? {23} Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?' {24} "Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.' {25} "'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!' {26} "He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. {27} But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and kill them in front of me.'" {28} After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

The crowd

Again, the crowd begins our discussion. They know where Jesus is heading, that he is determined now to go to Jerusalem. So, quite naturally, they conclude that he is going to attempt to restore the ancient Davidic kingdom at this time. So often we conclude that only the things of earth matter, and that the things of heaven are of no importance! One of the great myths of politics is that it is important.

The story that Jesus tells them is in fact a familiar one. It is the story of Herod the Great. When the Romans took over the area of Palestine they appointed a king. This was their custom; a puppet ruler was much easier to manage than the attempt to break the people down into becoming Romans. Such an appointment was made only in Rome, of course. Herod traveled to Rome to receive his appointment, and the Jews sent a delegation to object. Herod, you see, was an Idumean usurper of the Hasmonean dynasty. These names mean nothing to us, but meant a great deal to the Jews. Herod was not, technically, a Jew. He was an Idumean – an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, the brother of Jacob (also known as Israel). So from their point of view, Herod was not entitled to the throne under any circumstances. As you can imagine, this did not improve Herod’s disposition. This same Herod is the one who ordered the slaughter of the little children at the birth of Christ. By using this illustration, Christ makes clear the attitude that He will have at his return towards those who have rejected him.

The sinners

The sinners, in this story, are the servants. It is interesting to note that the master of the servants had a pretty good idea of which ones would prove profitable and which ones wouldn’t.

For our purposes, however, the most important fact is not which servant got the most money. We need to see that our master will judge us not on what we had, but on what we did with it. This brings to mind three “Ifs”:

·         “If I only was rich…” I know this one. If I only was rich I would give so much. But do I give the money I have?

·         “If I only had the time…” but do I use the time I have, or do I insist on my own time? Indeed, can we really say that any time is truly our own?

·         “If I only had the talent…” No one asks me to dance for the Lord, and a mercy it is too. But talent I do have; the Lord will ask what I have done with the talent I have.

This section gives us two examples of that. Bartimaeus had no money; all he had was himself. When Jesus restored his sight, he followed him. We know nothing further of him. Perhaps he had no talent for anything – but what he had, he gave to the Lord willingly. Himself.

Zacchaeus had money, and not much else. He was not called to follow, but what he had he gave. Not just to rectify past accounts, but for the joy of salvation.

Jesus

It is comforting to the Sunday School teacher to note that Jesus is not above using the same story more than once. This time the story has two purposes:

·         To explain to those around why God would be interested in Zacchaeus. He’s a man of money; what better explanation than God’s interest in profitable servants?

·         To warn us what will happen if we refuse to use God’s gifts for God’s kingdom.

In this passage Jesus tells us what it will be like when He returns.

·         For the good and faithful servant, the reward will be great, far out of proportion to the effort involved.

·         For the unprofitable servant, the reward is losing all.

·         For those who rejected the King of Kings, there is only the second death.

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