Mostly stuff on Christianity by an Anglican priest who reads a lot of C. S. Lewis. Please note: all my posts
about Lewis' book
How To Pray are on the site, under Social Media/blog.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Christmas Day '21 Sermon - Isa 9

When the angel Gabriel came to the virgin Mary and announced God's call to her to be the mother of the long-looked for Messiah, it is of interest to us this morning as we celebrate his birth, that Gabriel seems to have read Isaiah chapter 9!  We have just read this wonderful prophecy of the birth of Jesus by the prophet Isaiah, given some 700 years before Jesus' birth. And there we were told that the Prince of Peace would assume the throne of David, establish his reign forever, and his kingdom would have no end.  Now listen to what Gabriel said:  

Luke 1:30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

That's Isaiah!  And surely Mary had heard Isaiah's prophecy before in the synagogue.  She would have heard the echo in the angel's speech; she would have some understanding of what was happening.  Her initial reaction was the meek, "Let it be according to your word."  But when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, Mary bursts out in verse and begins to praise the Lord - but note what she praises him for!  She praises him for delivering her people from political, economic, and social oppression.  She doesn't mention sin, she doesn't mention heaven or hell - she speaks of temporal deliverance for her people.  

In Luke 1, she says, 

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

    and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers,

    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

That's interesting.  That sounds more like a temporal deliverance than being saved from our sins.  When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we talk a lot about the spiritual blessings Jesus came to bring.  But Isaiah, and Gabriel, and Mary (and there's others we could quote) are also relating Jesus' coming to a deliverance from oppression from wicked rulers.  This doesn't quite fit our categories.  Everyone agrees (even they would agree) that our worst enemy is sin - Jesus' very name represents that, as the angel told Joseph in Matthew 1.  But it seems that Isaiah and Gabriel and Mary believe Jesus cares about all the enemies that trouble his people and He is involved in our deliverance from them as well.

This morning, I'm only starting a train of thought here.  There is no way I can address all the various things that are involved in this, but at least I can get us started thinking about the nature of Jesus' current rule over this world.

Let's look again at Isaiah's prophecy and read the first 2 verses:

1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.  2  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

Notice the occasion of the prophecy: Why does Isaiah speak of the people of Galilee with words such as gloom, darkness, and anguish?  The reason is that in years past the people of the northern kingdom of Israel had become idolators, rebelling against Jehovah who was worshiped in Jerusalem.  When Ahaz was king of Jerusalem, some of these northerners got some friends together and decided to make war with Ahaz.  Now Ahaz was not a god-fearing man either, and he decided that he would get help from the Assyrians, who were the foremost military power of the day - and very dangerous.  The Assyrians, since they were asked, gladly invaded the northern tribes and the result was this oppression they were under in Isaiah's day.  

It is while Ahaz is still on the throne, that Isaiah promises a solution for the Galileans: light, joy, deliverance from a better King, a Prince of Peace.

Now let's note: The light he promises addresses the spiritual darkness that was involved in the political and military oppression.  These folks up north were ultimately in trouble because of their own sin.  They had left the LORD, and worshiped idols instead.  So, they needed their sin dealt with.  Light, in biblical literature, is primarily spiritual light, it is divine illumination that leads to salvation.  And so, in his prophecy, Isaiah speaks to their spiritual need first.  But he does go on to speak of how the LORD is going to remove the oppression of the Assyrians from them as well.  

4 For the yoke of his burden,  and the staff for his shoulder,  the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. [that, by the way, refers to the story of Gideon in the book of Judges]  5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult  and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.

So Isaiah promises two kinds of salvation – a spiritual and a temporal - all in the same package, and a child is going to be born to deal with it all.

But when would this child be born?  Well, it was going to take a while.  God has his own timing about these things.  As Peter says in 2 Peter 3: one day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.  It turns out that this child was not born until that first Christmas.  When we read Matthew 4:12-17, we learn that Jesus expressly fulfilled this promise of light for the people of Galilee:  

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  

So, the light promised for Galilee turned out to be the preaching of the Messiah himself, when he eventually came, calling their descendants to repentance.  But we note that the light originally promised by Isaiah was mixed in with the deliverance of Israel from oppression.  By the time of Jesus, it was the Romans who were the oppressors.  Since Jesus claimed to be the saviour promised in Isaiah, the Jews, therefore, asked Jesus if he was then going to set up his kingdom and deliver them from their oppressors.  Doesn't it make sense that they would expect that?  After Jesus' resurrection, didn't it make sense for the disciples to ask him in Acts 1:6, if he was then going to restore the kingdom to Israel?

If it does make sense, then why is it common for us in our era to belittle the Jews for thinking this way.  Why will a Bible commentator call them ignorant or narrow-minded or mistaken for expecting Jesus to take his throne and do something with the Romans?  Yes, they obviously did not understand how and when Jesus was going to proceed from this point on; just like they didn't understand he was going to have to die and rise from the dead to set this up.  But they were not wrong to expect him to do something along these lines.

Sometimes we think they were wrong.  We think they should have understood that Jesus came at the first to save us from our sins and do the work of our redemption, and then it would be at his second coming that he would fulfill all those political prophecies about his sitting on his throne and ruling the new world and saving us from our enemies.  Spiritual blessings first - peace on earth later - though, of course, the more Christian people are, the more peaceful their communities will be.  But by peace on earth here, we refer to Jesus's political rule, his monarchy, his theocracy.

Friends, I think you can see how we need to give the Jews more credit.  Jesus himself gave them credit, and he did not disappoint them!  He did not postpone his taking the throne of David and ruling the nations for the sake of his people.  He did not leave this earth and distance himself from the affairs of this world and all the oppression that goes on all the time until his second coming.  When Jesus ascended to heaven, there in the sight of these disciples in Acts, chapter 1, he took his throne right then.  

This is why Jesus worded his commission to them as he did in Matthew 28:16-20.

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.  ...18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 When Jesus gave his disciples the great commission in Matthew 28 to spread the gospel of salvation through the world, on what did he base that command?  He said, "All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth."  All authority, that is - in Isaiah's words - the government is on his shoulders.  Why?  Because once he was resurrected, he was going to ascend to heaven and take his seat on the true throne of David.  Jesus was not going to wait until he returned to set up his political authority over all the earth; he was setting it up right then and there.  And he establishes this eternal rule for the sake of the commission he gives his disciples.  It is because he now rules the nations that he is going to manage the nations in such a way that he will see to it that the gospel goes out into all the world with success, and he wants us to trust him to do that.  In this way he will increase his kingdom.  He rules that he might save to the uttermost all who would call upon him.  That means that, if there is a nation that gets in his way, he will deal with it - now, as is needful, for the present endeavour of the Church.

Our king cares about the oppression of his people and the persecution of his people by wicked rulers.  If you will, that's what the book of Revelation is primarily about!  The chief persecutors of the early Christians were the unbelieving Jews, based in Jerusalem, and later the Romans.  And Jesus shows John in Revelation how he is going to take them out.  The martyrs cry out under the altar, "when will our blood be avenged?" - God says, "you just wait, I'll take care of it."  Remember what Jesus said to Pilate?  "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above."  Eventually, Rome found out just how true that was.  "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."  Our king reigns now on the throne of David in heaven, he hears the prayers of his suffering saints, and he acts on their behalf.  Yes, there is judgment reserved for the Judgment Day, but there is judgment going on now as well.

Therefore, as Psalm 2 says, the rulers of this world had better fear him.  The communists in China, presently clamping down ever more sharply upon the Church there - they think they are going to get away with it.  They think they can hinder the increase of Jesus' kingdom.  They will not.  The Muslims in Africa, raiding the Christian villages, think they are going to get away with it - they are not.  The government is not on Allah's shoulders.  The wicked in Washington DC, who think the government is on their shoulders and they can break any law they want to shut down the remnants of Christianity in our country - they think they are going to get away with it.  But they are not.  Jesus reigns as far as the curse is found.  Jesus is on his throne, he rules over all, and he holds all powers of earth accountable for what they are doing as he builds his church, and with the zeal of the LORD, he will not let the enemies of the gospel prevail.  He will deal with them.  And when he comes back, he'll just keep doing what he's been doing - only any mercy he now shows to the nations for their salvation will at that time be finished.  When the Day of his return dawns, the time for repentance will be over.

In conclusion, friends, God's zeal - as Isaiah speaks of it - is not for any one nation.  Isaiah says the LORD is zealous for his Son's kingdom!  And so dear friends of the King, loyal subjects, members of his royal court - may our zeal, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be channeled in the same direction as his.  He has given us his Spirit, who is not a spirit of timidity but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.  Let's not be moved, let us not be afraid of the ever present turmoil in the world.  Jesus has got this.  Let us fulfill the mission to disciple the nations, as he not only rules over all, but walks beside us as well, for he has said  - "Lo, I am with you always..."  If we do so, we may actually save this or that state from his judgment, if they repent.  But more importantly, we will bring glory to his heavenly Father, the God who sent him, in weakness as a child, to conquer a kingdom, so that he may rule us in love forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Tora! Tora! Tora!

On this day, Fuchida sent the message, "Tora, Tora, Tora." Later, he proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ, Saviour and Lord.

Read his story here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

How not to be an idolator

Working on a Sunday School class for the 12th; thoughts from this morning:

Our challenges help us to remember our helplessness and need for the Rock of Israel (Deut. 32).  God pinches us awake.  We are to live per Hebrews 12.  Instead of forgetting our God, we are eagerly pursuing God, not merely remembering him so we can be thankful. 

If our lives are preoccupied with this world, we will pursue finite goals for this life, and eventually God will fade from importance and even from mind.  If we remember what we are about, who we are, why we are here, what story we are in, where everything is headed, then we keep the spell of the world broken. We stay alive and awake. We live in fellowship with the Spirit, pursuing the glory and vindication of our Lord, warring a good warfare - not settling down as if this were our home. We will also be thankful for the honour and privilege of it all.  We will hate idolatry with a vengeance! 

[Image: public domain.]

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Recent Articles

FYI, I've just sent off an article for the blog of the Anglican Diocese of the South (ACNA) about dealing with grief - should be posted in a week or so.  I'll provide the link here.

I have also just sent off an article for Good News Magazine on particular sins we need to examine during lent (it's the December issue) related to our divisions in our country today.  You'll be able to find it on their website when the December issue comes out: link is here.  I've written several for them in the past.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Anglicanism: Reformed and Catholic

Today is Oct 31, celebrated by Protestants as Reformation Day.  It is the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of Wittenburg Church.  That event is said to be the start of the Protestant Reformation.  Luther, however, was not trying to start a movement in the Church.  He did not intend for his action to lead to the events that followed.  He was actually following a common practice.  If a professor at the university where he taught had a subject he wanted debated, he would go and post a set of theses on the subject for debate.  It's just that by that time, there was a lot debate throughout Germany going on about the subjects he covered, and there was the printing press.  Someone removed his 95 these, printed them, and one thing lead to another.

The Reformation was, of course, a very complicated event that spread over many years.  The result was a split in Western Christendom between the Roman Catholics and those called Protestants, of which there were and have been since, many flavours.  It is still debated today whether or not to say the Protestant Reformation was a good thing or a bad thing.  Those who are especially concerned for the unity of the church do look ill upon it, and there is no question that a split is generally not a good thing.  

One person has said - and I tend to think he is right - that if the circumstances had simply been different, there would have been no split, but we may have been left with a Lutheran Order, to add to the Franciscan, the Dominican and so forth.  Luther, after all, started out thinking he was just trying to help solve an obvious problem; he had no intention of starting a new denomination at all.  But sadly, the Vatican had gotten too worldly, and church affairs were too tied up with political and national issues.  It seems the church was at that time in no position to be able to peacefully debate anything, even though people everywhere knew the Roman Church needed reforms.  And when reforms were made, people were glad.  Multitudes of people found liberation from the errors of Rome and a new assurance of their salvation in the preaching of the grace of the gospel.  For those people, the Reformation was a good thing indeed.  

It is common for Protestants to be characterized as people who wanted to get rid of all the church traditions that had accrued and get back to the Bible and the days of the apostles; and granted some Protestants thought that way.  Sadly, today, many evangelicals think that that was the only opinion, and they discount everything that had been believed and done between the early church and the 16th century, so that today - thinking they are being good Protestants - they don't pay any attention to the intervening period.  It's as if it was all just a Dark Age.  Truth be told, the Reformers would be appalled, especially those who reformed the Church of England.

The Church of England did have her own version of the Reformation, but at the same time, while making changes, she kept in her memory what she had been before.  This is the reason why Anglicans consider themselves not merely Protestants, but a Reformed Catholic church.  She is Reformed, but she has not lost the catholic connection.  This means that she maintains her connection with her past, while appreciating the reforms made in the 16th Century; the Anglican Church is a Protestant Church, but as such, she is still a continuation of what was good about her pre-Protestant days.  

Why this manner of reform?  The history of Christianity in England goes all the way back to the first century.  Eusebius - the Church historian - says that the apostles and disciples preached the gospel throughout the whole Empire; and it is almost certain that there were Christian soldiers in Britannia in the first century.  She has her own claim of apostolic originality.  She was never dependent upon Rome for her existence.  There were even bishops from England at the Council of Nicaea, which gave us the Nicene Creed.  Christians were worshipping our Lord in England long before the first Roman Catholic monk set foot on her shores.  It is certainly not the case that the Church of England began when Henry VIII separated the British Church from Rome.   

But changes did result from this separation and the accompanying reform, and they resulted in the foundation documents of our Church: The Book of Common Prayer, The Thirty-Nine Articles, The Ordinal, and we should include The Homilies.  If you read these documents - as we do portions of them every Sunday - what do we find?  We find they are Reformed: in the true Protestant spirit, they are full of Scripture.  All the Reformers, including those in England, believed that the Bible itself teaches us that it is the supreme authority for all that we as Christians are to believe and practice.  The Bible is the judge of our traditions, the judge of our culture, and the judge of all our hearts, not vice versa.  It is the Word of God that gives us life, faith, and the saving knowledge of God.  As St. Paul says to Timothy:

14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (in other words, it gives us everything that we need).

But continuing the point made earlier about keeping what was good from the past, the English theologians, did not ignore the writings of the Church Fathers - which the Roman Catholics looked to so much; the men who had written during the centuries following the age of the apostles.  Nor did they forget the worship practices of both Rome and England that had been used for centuries.  It’s just that they would only use works or practices that they could square up with Scripture.  E.g., Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer, wrote: "We consider that the authority of the orthodox fathers is by no means to be despised, for they have many useful and excellent observations.  But that the Holy Scriptures should be interpreted by their decisions we do not allow.”  By thus respecting and remembering and preserving aspects of the Church which had preceded them, the Reformers retained the catholic nature of the Church of England.

You may not realize it, but many of the collects and other prayers we pray in our services come from prayers composed centuries before the Reformation and long loved by the Church.  The collects we have been using this month were not composed by Cranmer but they come from either the Gelasian Sacramentary, which was a liturgy composed by Pope Gelasius I - who was pope from AD 492-496 - and the Gregorian Sacramentary, which was a revision of the Roman Catholic liturgy executed by Pope Gregory the Great (AD 590-604).  This liturgy was first brought by Benedictine monks to England when the pope sent them as missionaries to the people of that island - that's a thousand years before the Reformation!

In such manner, the leaders of the Reformation in England proved themselves to be catholic and Reformed.  

The question is understandably asked, "Will we ever reunite with the Roman Church?"  If there is time, it's possible.  While there are still some important differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants; there has been a good bit of rapprochement among the Roman Catholics toward Reformed Protestants.  On October 31, 1999, officials from both the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in which Pope Benedict said that Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone is correct if ‘faith is not opposed to charity.’ which, of course, it is not.  A lot of Roman Catholics don't like it, but there it is anyway.  Vatican II made several overtures to the Protestants.  Bishop Robert Barron - popular on Youtube - said that the Reformation made a great contribution to the Church at that time, by renewing an emphasis on the principle of the primacy of grace; an emphasis that needed renewing.  

At the same time evangelicals, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, are finding common ground in the "mere Christianity" ideal of C. S. Lewis.  The cultural pressures we also share together have led us to be much more cooperative and respectful of each other as well.  After all, no Anglican today is going to say - as some used to! - that the pope is the Antichrist.  Those days are past.  

There have been many in the Anglican Communion who have argued that we should adjust beliefs and practices in the Anglican Church to be closer to them and maybe even someday return to them.  There are some in the ACNA who have this persuasion.  I however agree with the evangelical Roman Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft, that the answer to our division is not for the two parties to deny who they are, but to be who they are while continuing to seek the Truth, and in God's good time, He will bring about the reunion that - whatever it may look like - we know would be ideal.  In the meantime, let us give thanks for our own communion, for "...our Church's history demonstrates that there is a strength, a vitality, a light that shines from traditional, evangelical Anglicanism that is lovely, and renews that salty savour of the Church, which our Lord declared as so necessary for her calling in this world."  So let us keep praying for the prosperity of a Reformed Catholic Christianity such as we enjoy in the Anglican Communion.  

Friday, October 29, 2021

Background to the English Reformation

 Lee Gatiss gives us a good lesson on the reforming work of men in England before Luther: 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Blind Bartimaeus and Prayer - Mk 10

You will recall from last week's gospel reading and sermon, that Jesus is walking to Jerusalem with his disciples to face his death.  He is already suffering the emotional stress of what he is to undergo, so much that he is walking ahead of everyone, which was unusual for him, causing them to be anxious about what is going on.  Because of the route he has taken, he is headed for Jericho, so he can approach Jerusalem from the East along the Jericho road.  However many disciples may have been with him, by the time they get to Jericho, a crowd is gathering to go up to the city, for it is time for the Passover.  

As was probably his custom, a poor blind man - according to Mark's rendition - was sitting along their route and as he heard the crowd coming, he overheard the mention of the name of Jesus, and he started to wonder if maybe Jesus was part of the crowd passing.  He would have heard of Jesus and his miraculous healing - even to the point of healing a man who had been born blind.  He may have thought that, if Jesus could heal that blind man, he could probably heal him as well.

Let's pick up the narrative, and as we do so, I will make comments along the way and then wind things up noting a few lessons we learn here.

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he [Jesus] was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside.  47 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!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Now Bartimaeus' cry is very important, for it reveals something of his faith, about which Jesus will soon speak.  He, first of all, believes enough about Jesus' ability that he has hope that he may be healed.  His persistence, in spite of the discouragements from the crowd, show the strength of his conviction, as well, probably, the depth of his longing to see again.  I think it can be said that the deeper we feel our need, the stronger will be our faith and hope in our Lord's mercy and the stronger will be our cry to him.  But notice also how Bartimaeus addresses him, "Jesus, Son of David."  This is a very important Messianic title, for it represents the fact that Jesus is David's descendant and greater son, the one whom David called both his son and his Lord; he who bears this official title is the Messiah come to restore David's heritage and throne.  How rarely do we see this title in the gospels!  Mark has it only 3 times, and two of them are here.  This man may have been blind, but he saw more than most.  Like Peter, he was given grace by the Father in Heaven to recognize that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  His cry for mercy and hope for healing was based, not only in the depth of his felt need, and in the conviction based on the stories he had heard, but on his own theological understanding of just who this person was - of course he heals the blind!  Is not the Spirit of God upon him to bring healing, since he is the Messiah?  And so he cries out.

And of all the things going on around him, this one thing stops Jesus in his determined tracks.

 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.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 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.” 

Ah!  Now here we may have a clue as to why Mark includes this story and why he names this beggar, elevating him to a point of recognition in the Church.  Does not Jesus's question ring a bell?  Had not Jesus just asked this question of James and John, as we read last week: "What is it that you want me to do for you?"  James and John wanted positions of prominence in the kingdom.  Bartimaeus could have asked for that, too; or for anything else he pleased.  But his request was much more simple: "Lord, I just want to be able to see again."  That's all.  What a contrast between these two answers to the same question.

52 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.

And here we have this beautiful end of this vignette.  Bartimaeus could have ventured off now to go see everything he had ever wanted to see, as he had suffered through the years in his poverty and blindness.  But what does he do?  He just wants to keep his eyes on Jesus.  Oh, friends, he who is forgiven much loves much, as Jesus said.  And he who has been much comforted loves much as well.  Do we, as Jeremiah in his Lamentation, remember the wormwood and the gall of our own past, and how we cried out to Jesus for mercy, and he gave his comfort to our afflicted souls.  O friends, let us never forget how good Jesus has been to us, and let's keep him where he belongs in our lives and in our hearts, foremost, right out in front, the object of our chief attention, faith, obedience, and love.  For he is worthy now and forever.

But now, having gone through this story, I want us to note for a few minutes a few particular lessons we learn from Bartimaeus' example for Christian prayer.  When Bartimaeus, poor and blind, called out to Jesus to have  mercy upon him, he was praying.  Prayer is bringing our cares and needs to Jesus.  And Bartimaeus was good at praying, for he received from the Lord what he asked for.

He thus gives us a good pattern for our own prayers.  I find three lessons for us here:

First:  if there's anything that he teaches us, it is his earnestness.  As soon as he was aware of his opportunity, he cried out.  He persisted when discouraged.  And when he had his audience, he threw aside hindrance and "sprang up" to meet with Jesus.  The apostle James tells us that The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16) and he gives Elijah as an example.  James could have used Bartimaeus as well, for it was that earnest and repeated cry, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" that arrested our Lord's attention and resulted in the answer to his prayer.  

Ah, friends, we don't have to be worked up into an emotional frenzy in all our prayers, but is there a particular request you wish to make of the Lord that you know is important.  Then let us seek grace - perhaps adding fasting to our praying if need be - to have the earnestness in our petitions that is befitting the importance of our request, with the confidence that it will make a difference.  The Lord's teaching is plain about this.

Next, Bartimaeus shows us the critical element of being definite in our requests.  When Jesus asked him what he wanted, he went straight to the point: "Rabboni, or my Lord, that I may receive my sight."  There is an excellent chapter in Andrew Murray's book, With Christ in the School of Prayer, to which I call your attention about being definite in prayer.  He mentions a habit, with which we are all familiar, of being indefinite in our praying, simply asking God's will be done, whatever that is, and so be it.  There will be times when we do not know what God's will may be in a matter, and so we pray "thy will be done," and trust that the Holy Spirit in us will offer the proper prayer, making up for our weakness (as we read in Romans 8:26).  But how would that prayer have sounded in Bartimaeus' mouth?  Jesus asked him, "what would you have me to do," and he replies "Rabbi, I don't know, whatever you want, your will be done."  Would he not have instead received more of a rebuke for his little faith than healing from Jesus?  The Lord bids us ask, seek, and knock that we may have the petitions we desire of him.  When he comes to the door, we'd better know what we are there for.  

Why does our Lord want us to be definite?  Murray says, "He desires it for our own sakes.  Such definite prayer teaches us to know our own needs better.  It demands time, and thought, and self-scrutiny to find out what really is our greatest need.  It searches us and puts us to the test as to whether our desires are honest and real, such as we are ready to persevere in.  It leads us to judge whether our desires are according to God's Word, and whether we really believe that we shall receive the things we ask.  It helps us to wait for the special answer, and to mark when it comes."  (p. 56).  I would love to quote Murray more from his chapter on Mark 10 and Bartimaeus' request, but we lack the time, so do look that up yourself.

Bartimaeus teaches us to be earnest in our prayer, to be definite, and finally to have faith.  We expect this, do we not?  Jesus was always responding to people according to their faith, "According to your faith be it unto you," he might say.  We read in the book of Hebrews, 11:6: But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.  (By the way; note that final phrase "those who diligently seek him;" there is that earnestness of which we have spoken.).  Yes, we know we must have faith.  Bartimaeus believed that Jesus could and hopefully would heal him, but not at the very moment of asking.  When Jesus says his faith had made him whole, the faith he refers to is the faith that he had already demonstrated in calling him the Son of David.  Bartimaeus had the faith to be healed, he was simply exercising that faith in his prayer, in his request of his Lord.

How may we have faith when we pray to receive the answer we seek?  Friends, there's no better way than to simply bring along with our requests the promises the Lord has already given us in his word - and they are abundant!  They are not only expressly stated throughout the Scriptures - and to our minds especially in the gospels - but implied by everything the Lord tells us to do.  Every promise, in all the Bible, in Jesus Christ, God considers a "yeah and amen" to our requests in prayer.  And rest assured, the very act of going to Jesus in the first place - as Bartimaeus does here- is an expression of faith, whether we feel we have faith or not.  Let's not pray looking at our feelings, but remembering the promises and looking to the merciful and loving hand of our Lord, who gives us all things richly to enjoy according to his will for us, as St. John says in his first epistle, I John 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

So, dear friends, let us follow the example of our dear brother, Bartimaeus, and be earnest, be definite, and be believing in our prayers, as we keep our eyes upon our Lord, and follow him, carrying our daily cross after him, to glory,  Amen.

[img source wikimediacommons]