St Michael’s ,17th March 2013
Reading – Luke 18:31-43
Two thousand years ago there was a man called Jesus who lived in a part of the world we now call Israel. How do we know this?
First of all, the places we find in the Bible are real places. It is possible even today to visit the sites where the events of Jesus’ life took place. You can visit Nazareth where the angel told Mary she was going to bear God’s Son. You can visit Bethlehem where Jesus was born. You can visit the Sea of Galilee and surrounding countryside where Jesus preached and ministered. You can visit Jerusalem where Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead.
Then there is the evidence of the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The earliest fragments of these gospels so far discovered date from about 50 years after Jesus’ death. No-one at the time denied that they faithfully recorded what happened to Jesus. Indeed there is evidence from other classical writers which actually supports what is written in the Bible.
Then there is the archaeology. I find it fascinating that the more people dig, the more people discover evidence which backs up what we find in the Bible. For example, until 1962 we only knew about Pontius Pilate from written records of the time. But then archaeologists found on the coast of the Mediterranean an inscription which mentions him by name. The more we find out, the more we discover that what is in Scripture is accurate.
All this is important because it shows the Christian faith is not based on personal opinion, or speculation, or rumour. It is based on the firm historical evidence that there really was a person called Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, worked as a carpenter in Nazareth and who died and rose again in Jerusalem. And don’t let anyone kid you that the early church made all this stuff up about Jesus, either. Even if Dan Brown could write good books, there is absolutely no evidence that anything he writes about in the DaVinci Code bears any resemblance to reality. What the Bible says about Jesus is trustworthy and true.
So the question this morning is not, is Jesus real? The question is, how do we respond to this Jesus?
This leads me on to our reading morning from Luke’s gospel which shows two different responses to Jesus. First of all, there are the disciples. These are people who have already been with Jesus for a couple of years now. They have seen Jesus doing amazing things, like turn water into wine, or feed 5000 people, or walk on water. They have heard His preaching and His teaching. And they have also grown up with what we now call the Old Testament. They would have been very familiar with all the prophecies that one day a Messiah would come who would suffer and die for His people.
But when Jesus tells them that the prophecies are going to be fulfilled, that He is going up to Jerusalem where: They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him and On the third day he will rise again (Luke 18:32-33), they just don’t get it. Or as Luke puts in verse 34: The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about. As far as they were concerned, it was if Jesus was suddenly talking in a foreign language. Nothing made any sense to them at all.
I believe the example of the disciples is important because it shows us the difference between knowing about Jesus and actually knowing Jesus personally. It is possible to know everything there is to know about Jesus and yet still be in the dark about who He is, and why He came to save and rescue us. Indeed, I believe there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians who know the stories of Jesus, who have maybe been going to church for many, many years, yet have never really grasped the difference actually knowing Jesus personally makes.
Last year we celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. During that year we learnt an awful lot about the Queen. There were programmes on the telly, there were magazine articles, there were special lessons in schools. By the end of the year most of us knew a lot more about the Queen than before. But I don’t think anyone really got to know the Queen personally.
You see, to know someone is more than about having information about that person. It’s about having a relationship with them. And although the disciples heard Jesus’ words, they weren’t really listening. Just as indeed we can come to church, hear about Jesus, but never grasp the simple fact He wants to talk us by the power of His Holy Spirit, and show us who He really is.
But there is someone in today’s passage who does understand who Jesus is and comes to know Him personally. He’s not someone famous. He doesn’t have a theology degree. He doesn’t even have a roof over his head. In fact, he is a blind beggar sitting by the roadside. If he was alive today, he’d probably be one of those people in the underpass selling the Big Issue. Yet it is this person who teaches us what it means to listen to Jesus and respond in faith and trust to Him.
Let’s pause a moment to picture the scene. Jesus is heading south down to Jericho, which is basically a large oasis in the desert. There is a large crowd going past eager to meet him. You can imagine all the dust and the sand their feet whip up. This beggar is getting filthy, maybe he is even getting jostled by all those hot and sweaty feet. When he asks what’s going on, someone tells him: Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.
Because that is, in the crowd’s eyes, who Jesus is – someone from Nazareth who’s the latest sensation, the must-see in this week’s news. They have no idea that Jesus is any more than that, that in fact He is the Messiah they have long been waiting for. But our friend the Big Issue seller does. And when he hears the name of Jesus he cries out: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
Somehow this blind man knows Jesus is descended from the great king of Israel called David hundreds of years earlier. And somehow this man believes that because Jesus is in some sense a king, He has the power to help him. But what does it matter anyway? The crowd aren’t going to pay much attention to a beggar sitting at the side of the road. In fact their response is to tell him to shut up. Yet to their embarrassment the blind man only keeps on shouting Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
And the amazing thing is, Jesus is listening. He hears his cries, He stops, He orders the man to be brought to Him. We’re not told the crowd’s reaction at this point. But I am sure quite a few of them would have been disgusted by the fact Jesus paid attention to a filthy beggar who was making quite such a fuss. It wasn’t the way the latest big thing from Galilee was supposed to behave.
But Jesus isn’t interested in what the crowd thinks. Instead, He turns to the beggar and asks the most amazing and astonishing question: What do you want me to do for you? Isn’t that truly mind-blowing? Here is Jesus the very Son of God talking to a blind man without a penny to his name. And He asks him what He could do for him. But then, this blind man has actually seen something that no-one has seen – not the disciples, not the crowds, not anyone else on that day. Listen carefully to what he says next: Lord, I want to see.
This blind man recognises that Jesus is not just the next big thing, not just a travelling prophet. He is Lord. In other words, that Jesus has all the power and authority because He Himself is God. And because he recognises who Jesus is, Jesus is willing to use that power and authority to change his life. Jesus heals him, his sight is restored, and everyone goes home praising God.
Let’s sum up where we have got to so far. There really was a man called Jesus who lived, died and rose again for us. We can know all about Him by reading the Bible, because the Bible is a true and trustworthy account of His life. But while it is good to know about Jesus, knowing about Jesus is not enough. The disciples knew about Jesus but they couldn’t understand why Jesus would have to be mocked, insulted and killed in Jerusalem.
This is where the blind man can teach us so much. Because that day he came to recognise Jesus as He truly is, the Son of David, the Lord. As a result he came before Jesus and so began a personal relationship with Him. The point of the story is not that if we are physically blind, Jesus will always heal us. It’s that if we realise we need Jesus in our life, then He will come and save us from all our sin and wrongdoing, and we can know Him personally as our Lord and Saviour.
And this leads directly to our baptism service. In a moment I will ask parents and godparents: Do you turn to Christ as your Lord and Saviour? I hope that with honesty and conviction they will reply: I turn to Christ. But today I want all of us to think about how we would answer this question.
Maybe you are like the disciples. Maybe you have been coming to church for donkey’s years and have heard so much about Jesus but never really asked Him to be your Saviour. Understand that Jesus wants a relationship with you, that He is just longing for you to come in faith to Him. Or maybe you are like the beggar. Maybe people keep telling you that you are worthless and you don’t really deserve anything. Understand that Jesus has time for you, that He is interested and cares for you, and He can change for your life for good if only you turn to Him. But whoever you are like, let today be the day when you turn to Jesus, and discover His presence in your life, to bless and to save, not just in a single, one-off encounter, but now and always, as your Lord, your Saviour who loved you so much He laid down His life for you. Surely such love demands a response, doesn’t it!?