Warren Wiersbe, the pre-eminent Bible teacher, says when you first start studying Scripture, you’re looking into a window. You see how people lived in biblical times, what the prophets did and said, what Jesus said, and how the people behaved. Eventually, Dr. Wiersbe says, stay with the Scripture and in time you see that it’s more than a window; it’s a mirror, through which you see yourself and your world.
Joe Joslin and I were serving on staff together at the First Baptist Church of Charlotte a few years back, and had run into the Smokies to spend the night with a group from our church who were on a weeklong retreat. The next morning as we headed back south, we ran by the town of East Flat Rock to see Carl Sandburg’s home. Called Connemara, this lovely home is open to tourists year round and is well worth the visit. In front of the home lies a picturesque lake with a small bridge on which one can walk across. Joe and I were standing on that bridge gazing down into the water.
It was a gorgeous August day, with the sky a deep Carolina blue and the clouds so radiant they almost seemed radioactive. As we stood there drinking it in, the reflection of the sky on the water was so brilliant, I said to Joe, “Isn’t that amazing?” He said, “Yeah, and I’ll bet some of those babies would dress out at 3 pounds.”
I said, “What?” What in the world was he talking about? Then I saw what he saw–down in the water was a world of fish, large and impressive. Joslin is the fisherman, you might have guessed, and not me.
Joe was looking through the window of that lake, beholding all it contained. I saw the lake as a mirror, reflecting the world above. Two ways of looking at the same thing.
This is a plea for not rushing through Scripture, but staying with a passage and reflecting on it again and again until you see things you did not know were there. It’s how the Holy Spirit seems to prefer to teach, through marinating and not microwaving, as the old line goes.
Case in point.
Take the story of blind Bartimaeus as recorded in Luke 18. For some reason, I love that story and over the years have returned to it again and again for preaching material. I like the ferocity of the blind beggar, who persisted in calling out for Jesus louder and louder when the people around him tried to shush him. He was determined to “see” Jesus. I admire the man’s intelligence. Then as now, people tend to think a handicapped individual is also stupid, so Bartimaeus made that work for him. He kept his mouth shut there by the city gate of Jericho and he listened. That’s how he first heard about Jesus of Nazareth, the remarkable teacher and miracle worker. In time as he listened and thought, Bart realized or learned that Jesus is the Messiah which the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, calls “Son of David.”
I like the way Bart had decided that the next opportunity he had, the next time Jesus was in Jericho, he was going to meet Him and give Him an opportunity to touch him. In the past, he usually found out too late that Jesus had been there. That would not happen again; he would be alert and would be prepared. That’s how it happened that day, that when passersby told blind Bart that “Jesus of Nazareth is coming this way,” he unfurled himself and sat up straight and organized his rags and commenced yelling, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me.”
Had Bart been truly stupid, I mean disastrously foolish, he would have done what many today do all the time. He would have procrastinated. “I have plenty of time. Jesus is a reasonably young man and will be with us a long time. One of these days, I’ll come to Him. Just not today.”
As I say, Bart was nobody’s fool. He did not want to live another day in his darkness and despondency. Whatever it took to meet Jesus, he would pay the price. If it meant incurring the displeasure of everyone around him, it was worth it.
I have preached the Bartimaeus story from the standpoint of prayer. Prayer, you know, is need-driven, and here was a man with a severe need. So he prays for Jesus to have mercy on him. Prayer is faith-powered and we see Bart’s faith in the way he persists against the discouragement of those around him. Prayer should be Jesus-focused, and his was. But prayer should also be as specific as one can make it, which is why the Lord said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Get specific, Bart. You’ve been asking for mercy, but that could mean a few shekels, a better begging place, a training program for the blind, anything. Like so many of my prayers over the years, the prayers of Christians are often tainted by the curse of generality. “Bless me, bless my family, bless the president.” Jesus asked Bartimaeus a great question: Exactly what do you want from me?. “Lord,” he said, “I want to receive my sight.” And he did. It was that simple.
Then the Lord showed me the mirror in this passage. As a result, I saw myself and my fellow believers in two ways.
First: Bart was calling out louder and louder for Jesus to have mercy on him when the Lord came within earshot. “What’s that?” He asked. “O Lord,” someone said, “we have this beggar and he’s yelling for you to have mercy on him. It’s embarrassing.” That’s when Jesus said something that I am only now hearing. “Bring him to me.”
Just a minute here. “Lord,” we could protest, “You’re on the road into town. In a few minutes you will walk past that city gate where the blind beggar camps out. You can do business with him there. But instead, you’re asking us to bring him to you. Is this necessary?”
Jesus could have done His business with Bartimaeus without the assistance of anyone. But, He was always at work teaching and preparing His disciples for their future ministry. By asking them to walk ahead and bring Bart, the Lord was saying in effect, “I want you to see this man and to hear his cries. And I want you to be the ones to bring him to me.” This was no potted plant, this man without sight calling for the Savior. He was a human being whom God loved. My job is to see him, to hear him, and to bring him to Jesus.
Second: I am struck by all the barriers and resistance people in Scripture have to get past to come to Jesus. Blind Bart had to be heard over the discouragement and rebukes of the people around him, a group which may have even included the Lord’s disciples.
Same chapter. Mothers are bringing their children to Jesus for Him to touch them, to bless them. Meanwhile, the disciples are rebuking them. Throwing up barriers between the mothers and their little ones and Jesus. With friends like these, Jesus hardly needed an enemy. (Luke 18:15)
In Mark 2, we find another version of this. Four friends bring a paralyzed buddy to the house where Jesus is teaching, intending for Him to heal the man. The neighbors had crowded into the little house and were hanging outside the doors and windows. Unwilling to accept failure, the four carried their friend to the rooftop and tore open the ceiling and lowered him inside the house. When Jesus saw the faith of the four (Scripture doesn’t mention the paralytic’s faith), He forgave the man his sin and healed him of his paralysis. The barrier they had to overcome was the neighbors, interested in Jesus, no doubt, and surely well-intentioned. But they were in the way.
God help us not be barriers between people and the Lord. God help us to bring people to Him, to see them and hear them and to have time for them.
A friend said, “I needed a drink of water so badly, and was glad to find the water fountain. But a dozen people stood around it, chatting, visiting with each other. They had drunk their fill and now they were blocking all the rest of us who needed a drink.”
Margaret Zeringue told me her story. She was divorcing her husband due to his gambling and drinking. When she told the priest, he said, “I don’t blame you, but you understand, you can no longer take communion in our parish. However, anytime you’re in another parish, feel free to take it.” Margaret said, “I am no theologian, but I know that’s not right. After all, I want Jesus in my life and if I want Him, He surely wants me.”
I showed her where Jesus said, “He that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37)
I’m not a priest, but a preacher and for many years a pastor. I know the tendency, the temptation, to let my rules and my interpretation of God’s word become a hindrance, a shackle, a burden, a barrier. Instead of helping people get to Jesus, it’s so easy to make it more difficult. Like the local pastor who told me just last week about a member of his church whom he overheard addressing a visitor, a fellow who had wandered in off the street. “Is that any way to dress when you come to the Lord’s house?” The pastor said, “I called the member off to the side and rebuked him. The very idea. That man is lost and doesn’t have a clue what church is all about. We ought to be welcoming him here, no matter what he’s wearing.”
God’s word: window and mirrow. It’s a wonderful process.