Simple Math

Dear Friends:

This is the second of three stories of men and their experience with Jesus that I’ve been pondering for the past six months. One was a virtuous leader who found his success to be more important than Jesus. The second was a blind beggar who possessed nothing but a desperate prayer. The third was a wealthy rogue who refused to let anything stand between him and seeing Jesus. Read together, their stories reveal the truth of what we want and what Christ wants and how our desire and his reality can be reconciled. These stories appear in sequence in Luke 18 and 19.

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Do you recognize the foolishness of seeking fulfillment outside of Him? Do you understand that it’s impossible to please God in any way other than whole hearted surrender? Do you grasp the beauty and deep joy of walking in genuine intimacy with God, our holy Father and Friend? Do you want to see God more than you desire security? (Francis Chan, Crazy Love [Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2008], p. 113)
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As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God (Lk 18:35-43).

We begin by revisiting Jesus’ encounter with the rich, young ruler. He would not receive by subtraction that which he could not acquire by addition in the simple math of the Gospel.

Jesus loved the man and invited him to give up everything for love (Mk 10:21-22). He refused because love wasn’t enough for him. He wanted salvation as the earnings of a life lived well. When Jesus told him he had to let go of the tangible proof of the blessing of that life to receive eternal life, he turned away. If he couldn’t buy it, he didn’t want it. After all, a rich, young ruler is no charity case. Pride won’t allow it.

It’s not love if you have to buy the object of your desire. Paradoxically, if it costs nothing, it’s not love. The variable is you.

If you seek Jesus as an add on to the possessions, title, and status that makes up your identity, i.e., “a successful Christian executive,” Jesus will have none of it. He will not be just one more deity in your personal pantheon of gods. Scripture makes this crystal clear: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for your self and idol. . . “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:3-5b). Those mighty works of philanthropy and ministry and that power and influence acquired for the good of the kingdom mean nothing at all if you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Mt 7:21-23).

On the other hand, if you are willing to give up everything, including your very self, to Jesus, he will become everything to you. As John the Baptist succinctly summarized the equation: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

The Creator who made you out of nothing but his thought of love will remake you out of his gift of love if you are willing to become nothing again.

It’s your choice of course. Because Jesus’ love is the only complete and true love that you are ever really going to know, he graciously allows you to make the choice to take him or leave him. Jesus is many things, Creator, Redeemer, Lord, Brother, the Son of God–but he is no dictator.

This is something that a lot of people don’t understand about Christ. Skeptics and seekers ask, “If he is God and perfect why doesn’t he make people and things perfect? He’d be a lonely God if that were true because robots are efficient, but loveless. Freedom of choice is inherent in true love. There is no more beautiful thing in a relationship than to be wanted rather than needed.

Of course the choice contains the inherent possibility that the decision made will be away from the lover rather than towards him. That’s where sin begins and continues. Think of the painful hash that we humans have made of this world by rejecting God and attempting to be our own gods. Without the artesian flow of the Creator’s power we have to make it up for ourselves and that quickly turns to comparison, then to competition, then to envy and finally flowers in murderous violence (Gen 4:1-16; Js 4:1-4). We are left alone then in our personal hell (Is 30:15-17). The essence of sin is our insistence on our way over God’s will. Hell is a graceless eternity with only ourselves to blame.

That’s the heartbreak of love and Christ’s heart breaks on that score long before yours does. Hear the ache in these words: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:10-11).

Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and his destiny on the cross. The rich, young ruler declines to go with him. Jesus lets him go and moves on. He won’t make the ruler come along. The seed of love has been planted. Perhaps it will bear fruit later on. Grace beyond measure means no quick, vengeful write-offs.

The crowds follow Jesus on through Jericho, clapping, cheering, shouting praises. The blind beggar can’t see a thing, but he can hear the surging crowd. “What’s going on?” he asks.

The bystanders tell him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

The facts of the beggar’s life are stark. He is blind. He has nothing but the coat on his back and whatever he receives by his pitiful pleading (Lk 18:35-43; Mk 10:46-52). He does seem to have knowledge and faith about who Jesus really is. There is no “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” for him. He knows beyond a shadow of a pretentious doubt that there is nothing that he can do but yell out at the top of his lungs for Jesus’ attention.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” This is an excellent and complete prayer because it confesses need, and acknowledges Source and providence in one breath.

It is the sad truth that those who shout out their demand for a personal engagement with Jesus can genuinely irritate those who are content to stand in neat ranks to watch him pass by. When social decorum becomes our spiritual rule and those who express their need for Jesus become a distraction and an annoyance to us we can be certain that we are no longer on speaking terms with the God of grace and mercy, if indeed we ever were. Jesus said that there is more than one kind of blindness (Jn 9:39-41).

When it comes to meeting Jesus, never accept someone else’s, “Sit down and shut up” no matter how piously uttered. Just ask them, “Don’t you want to meet Jesus too?” and leave it at that.

The beggar yells louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Again, it doesn’t have to be much of a prayer to get his attention. Acknowledge his power and your need and see what happens.

Because Jesus heard the beggar’s prayer and he’ll hear you also if you pray like him. Jesus stops and stands still. The Lord of the universe, Creator of the world, halts to hear the plea of a blind beggar! This is amazing grace.

Yes, Jesus is on the way to saving the world. Yes, the expectations for him are great. Yes, you may only be a blind, impoverished beggar. Yes, there may be other people, a whole crowd in fact, between you and Jesus. But you know what? You are on his mind and in his heart always. If he stopped thinking of you, he would cease to exist. You were in his thoughts before the world was created. Hear his word to you: “Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. . . ” (Is 49:15-16).

You are his mission. “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost” (Lk 19:10). It is not politically correct to say this, but we are the lost if we are not in intimate relationship with Jesus (Mt 7:21-22).

For his part, Jesus is willing to bring the forward progress of the kingdom to a halt so that a blind beggar can join him. That’s the kind of Savior he is.

Jesus calls out to us bystanders, “Don’t just stand there frowning and trying to bring law and order to the congregation. Bring me the man or woman who really wants to meet me.”

When they bring him the beggar, Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Remember the rich, young ruler asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, here is the devastating answer revealed in Jesus’ question to the  beggar. All those extra-credit points that we’ve painstakingly tried to earn, the neatness of our work, the sweat-equity of our religious compliance–all of the elements of our credit report, whether good or bad, are irrelevant when the Man himself asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

It is clear that the blind beggar has a terrible credit report. He has a major, life-altering disability. He is on the street without a cent to his name. The only possession he has is a coat.

The coat is a fascinating part of the story. Only Mark, who probably heard the tale from Peter, includes the detail about the coat. “And they told the blind man, ‘Take heart, get up; he is calling you.’ And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus” (Mk 10:49-50).

We do not know if the coat is the last vestige of the better days when he had sight. It may have been someone’s donation to the “Jericho Rescue Mission.” However he obtained it, a coat is an important asset in the cold desert nights. A coat can serve as a blanket and a pillow as well as a garment. It is his only “creature comfort.”

When we are blind and groping about, bereft of mercy, begging for our very existence, we tend to hunker down and pull our coats close around us. trying to preserve ourselves against the corrosive effects of shame and fear. This started the very day that Adam and Eve decided to be god for themselves instead of trusting the one and only God. When they stopped looking to their loving Creator as a guide and provider, they started looking a each other and found out fast that without God’s light, they were naked and ashamed. So they made themselves clothes to hide their vulnerabilities (Gen 3:7).

Their covering was only pretense, but without God as our covering truth, pretense is what we are left with. We have no creative power and only our finite resources to face the night coming on fast and cold. We pull our coats tighter against our flesh in self-pity and hope that no one sees how poor and weak we really are.

Even when the Savior finally gets through to us with his better offer, we are afraid to give up the coat no matter how stained and smelly it’s become. It’s all we have, it’s all we know. Even in our misery, we cling to it rather than to risk the seemingly intangible possibilities of hope.

This blind beggar is the glorious exception. He cries out to Jesus for mercy. Jesus stops for him, calls to him, wants to talk to him and be with him the way it was–and oh the tears that come to my eyes even writing this. . . it’s the way it was with Adam and Eve in the very beginning before they preferred their own shabby devices to the encompassing flow of grace.

In the cool of the evening back then, God enjoyed walking through the garden for a personal chat with his beloved children (Gen 3:8). Now, in the heat of this day, on the Jericho Road, the broken, blind descendant of those who gave in to the temptation of the fruit that “was a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6), cries out for mercy from the very same God and the old connection is restored in the great reversal of grace.

Jesus asks in kindness, “What do you want me to do for you? The beggar replies, “Lord, let me see again.”

We know from the request that the man once had sight. How does one lose vision? Tragic accident? Disease? Looking in the wrong places? Shame so powerful that one does not dare raise one’s eyes? Cares, burdens, trauma and losses pile up until we just stop looking because we can’t bear what we see? Aren’t we all blind beggars at some point? How did you lose your vision?

“Receive your sight; your faith has saved you,” Jesus tells the man. “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God.”

The salvation is a surprising twist. The beggar has only asked for his sight but he receives so much more. Why? There is something here of great importance.

It’s really simple. The Gospel is not complicated. It all comes down to who you know. The key to eternal life is to know the Father and Jesus Christ who he sent for us (Jn 17:3). The rich, young ruler wanted to do something he called “eternal life.” He only wanted Jesus to give him the answer. He didn’t want to follow Jesus. The rich, young ruler had as great a lack as the beggar, but because he would not admit to the spiritual impoverishment that stirred him to seek eternal life in the first place he allowed no place in his proud heart for Jesus to live.

The beggar can do nothing but call on Jesus and there you have it–the key to salvation. Instead of trying to save yourself or seeking salvation from others as frail as you are, why not talk to the One who can heal you with just a word (Lk 7:7).

Salvation is received when we call on Jesus to have mercy on us. It was true for the beggar and it is true for you. As the Apostle Paul summed it up. “The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Rom 10:12-13).

Whatever and however you are trying to see, look no further. Call out, “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The response to that prayer honestly prayed is always grace and it is by God’s grace alone that we are saved (Eph. 2:8).

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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