When Jesus Opens Your Eyes, Life Is Different

When Jesus opens your eyes, life is different. That’s the thought the Scriptures have for us today, and we pray the Holy Spirit will open our eyes as he speaks to us.

In our text, Jesus meets Bartimaeus, who was blind. This is the only reference to him found in the scriptures. However, through his story, we learn how necessary it is for the spiritually blind to see Jesus and how life will be entirely different.

Bartimaeus didn’t have any money, so he would sit on the roadside with his little pot and plead with those who came along to give him some coins so that he might keep his life and soul together for another day. As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus shouted, “Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me.” Being blind, he was probably of little consequence to most of the town’s people, and so they told him to keep still. However, when Jesus heard him, he told them to bring the blind man near. Now picture the scene: Jesus is standing there, and Bartimaeus is kneeling before him. When Jesus asks him what he wants, Bartimaeus says, “I want to see.”

Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” The blind man was able to see again, and life was different for him. He could now see his mother and father, his siblings and all those around him. He could look into the faces of the people. I can’t help but think that Bartimaeus embraced Jesus and said, “Thank you, Lord! Thank you!” And when Jesus continued on the road, Bartimaeus followed after and became one of Jesus’ followers. His life had changed, and as a result, it was a new day for him in God’s kingdom!

Today we celebrate Reformation Sunday, the day when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Luther had lived in darkness for a long time. Intellectually he was very bright; he earned his doctors degree in a few years, and his folks, I am sure, were very proud of him. Luther’s plans were to study law, but he had a real spiritual problem. He was living in darkness, and he questioned what life is all about. He had the message of the church, but it was quite cloudy. Luther wondered how to get to his heavenly home that had been prepared for him.

With his mind still cloudy, Luther decided to leave law school and enter an Augustinian monastery to become a monk where he earnestly studied the scriptures, confessed his sins and fasted. He continually cried out to the scholars and professors, “How does one receive peace with God?” He kept asking the same questions, and they finally became so disgusted with him that they said to him, “Martin, just trust.” Still, that wasn’t enough to quiet his soul.

One of Luther’s superiors had great faith in him and concluded he needed more work to distract him from his excessive introspection. So Luther was ordered to pursue an academic career. He began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg where he beame a professor of biblical studies. He studied many of the books of the New Testament and the book of Psalms in the Old Testament, then was assigned to lecture to the students on the book of Romans. At the time, the church was teaching that a person is saved by faith in Christ, to be sure, but faith alone cannot justify man. Instead, it taught that faith + works = salvation. And as a result, Luther felt he could never do enough works, he could never go to confession often enough, and he did not study the scriptures as much as he should.

One day, as he was preparing lessons in the book of Romans, Luther came to chapter 1 verse 17: “The just shall live by faith.” This caused him to dig deeper into Paul’s letter to the Romans, and the inspired Word of God began speaking to him saying, You are saved by grace alone. You make no contribution to your salvation. Jesus suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the world so that you and I might be his forever.”

This message, so plainly spoken in the Scriptures, set Luther’s soul free! And although he was now free, the church was not speaking the same message. So Luther became very disturbed, for he loved his church. He worked diligently to correct that error by sharing the message of the gospel. Luther’s ninety-five theses were published and circulated throughout Germany. He wrote works on other parts of the Bible, and students thronged to hear his lectures on the book of Psalms, Romans, Hebrews, and Galatians.

Luther was eventually brought to trial, declared an outlaw and an enemy of the Pope. His literature was banned, and anyone who offered him safe harbor could also be arrested. However, a friend took Luther to Wartburg Castle where he lived until he was able to freely leave and go to work.

Here was this man who had preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. He knew the message of the Church is this: CHRIST alone is our salvation; CHRIST alone is our Savior; CHRIST alone can open our eyes and make life new. And Jesus Christ assures us that, when we close our eyes in death and go to the Kingdom of God, life will be new. Some mysteries still remain, but the truth that heaven is our home through faith in Christ alone still stands!

That is the message of the evangelical Church. No denomination can claim to teach it as clearly as it should be taught, for we are still inclined to say more is needed for salvation than simply grace through faith in Christ Jesus. But when our eyes are opened and we see Jesus, life will be different. It is a different place to live.

Living in a corrupt world that is filled with sin can be difficult, for sin is within our own very being. However, we have hope as we trust in the Savior. We can trust him for ourselves and for the world if it will turn to him. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them. Then, as their eyelids are opened, they will also inherit the kingdom of God, and life will be new for them.

How is life made new? As a child of God trusting Jesus Christ with eyes open, you come to the marriage altar, knowing this is a very holy time. From that day on, your life is going to be different. You know the importance of talking to your fiancŽ about their relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, because Scripture tells us to be not equally yoked with unbelievers. As you recite your vows to love one another for as long as you both shall live Ð not just until love runs out Ð you take them seriously, for Jesus has taken the scales off your eyes. You are making a promise before Him.

The years go by and soon you find the doctor placing a new little body in your hands as children are born. Then you realize you have a new responsibility. A few weeks later you take that child to the baptismal font and present him for holy baptism. And you hear the pastor say, “Now take this child home and introduce him to Jesus Christ.” In the early years of that young child’s life, his faith is in your hands. Unless Jesus has opened your eyes, you don’t necessarily see that opportunity.

When Jesus opens our eyes, life is different.

♬Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth you have for me.

Place in my hand the wonderful key that shall unlock and set me free.

Silently now I wait for you, ready my God, your will to do.

Open mine eyes illumine me, Spirit divine.♬

Can You Really Follow Me?

The end of Jesus’ ministry on this earth was drawing near. Soon he would go to the cross, suffer and die for the sins of the world only to be raised and ascend into heaven.

In his preparations to leave, he wanted to leave behind a Church that understood the gospel Ð that Jesus came into this world to die as a payment for the sins of the world. He came to seek and to save the lost. Building the kingdom would simply be a matter of going out and telling this story. The Holy Spirit will then work in the hearts of the people. When they, by grace, say yes to the Spirit’s invitation, then they will also become his servants.

The Christian’s primary task is to be a spokesperson for the kingdom of God. Servants in the kingdom of God speak to people around them. There are no CEOs in the kingdom of God.

Today’s text tells a story centered around the thought, Are you really able to follow me? The disciples thought the kingdom of God would be a place on earth, and the Messiah Ð Jesus Ð would be its earthly ruler. James and John wanted the prestigious position of sitting on either side of Jesus as CEOs in his kingdom. However, Jesus said that is not the way the kingdom of God works. It consists of those who have confessed their sins and trust him as their Savior and Lord. Citizens of that kingdom must be willing to go to the ends of the world telling the Gospel.

When the other ten disciples heard about James’ and John’s request, they were angry. Why should those two receive special treatment? Seeing the division and the disciples’ ignorance of what the kingdom of God is all about, Jesus called them together and said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant . . .” Jesus was trying to show them that his primary reason for coming to this world was to suffer, and as his servants, they would also have to suffer. He would go to the cross; his hands would be nailed to the cross, a sword would pierce his side, and he would be insulted by all kinds of people. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. This is what Jesus had to endure; his followers could expect the same.

The disciples’ persecution began shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven. In fact, James was the first disciple to suffer martyrdom (Acts 12:2). I wonder if, as the sword was put into James’ heart, he thought of Jesus’ words from our text. Here he was, the first one of the group to die for the faith.

The other brother in our text, John, lived his last years in exile. He was probably close to a hundred years old and spent many difficult years as Jesus’ disciple. He had even been put into prison in order to keep from speaking the gospel. Perhaps, during those long days in exile, he thought, “Oh, if I could have only gone with the rest, then I would be at home with my heavenly Father. But Jesus did tell us that, while he could not promise us an easy life, a heavenly home will be waiting for us if we only remain faithful to him and put our trust in him as our Savior and Lord.”

It was not until after Jesus’ ascension that the disciples began to understand their role in the building of the kingdom of heaven and how blessed they were to be one of its builders. Christians throughout the centuries have had to understand that, as difficult as it is to watch people reject the Savior, suffering is a part of serving Christ.

The Church of Jesus Christ has done many mighty works throughout the years. Yet, even the Church has had times when politics and selfish desires have prevailed, where the main goal of an individual is to be lifted to a place of prominence. Politics happen as we elect pastors to serve our congregations, bishops to serve our districts, etc.

Yet others have faithfully served Christ, despite their limited resources, or whatever other obstacles may have been in the way. These Christians were standing in the wings, ready to serve Christ in the capacity in which they were called. Many of these people now live in their heavenly home; others are still awake.

We think of the Dietrich Bonhoeffers and countless others who are dying for the cause of Jesus in our world today. In the midst of these sufferings, we may question why God acts as he does. “I have tried to be faithful to him. Yet, see what I go through!” Again, Jesus did not promise this life would be easy, but he did promise that we would rejoice in the glorious riches that await us.

Picture, for example, a couple who have a daughter whom they love with all their hearts. She is getting married, and the parents give her a beautiful wedding. Then they sit back and look forward to grandchildren. But then one day they are called to the hospital, where their daughter tells them she has an incurable disease and will die of cancer. Why did this happen?

Jesus did not promise that we would not have sickness and our loved ones would not be taken from us. But he did promise to be by our side all the time, comforting us with the promises of his Word and speaking to us as we say our prayers.

No, we do not have a life free from hardship, but we do have a life that promises us the presence of Jesus Christ as no other part of this world can. We have problems in our families and among our friends. Marriages collapse, businesses fail, hardships come. However, Jesus gives us strength, and his grace is sufficient.

Turning back to today’s text, politics happen in our government and in the church, and things become vicious. A man wants to serve as a minister of God, but only in a place of prestige. Perhaps in a large church with all types of facilities, not in some small country church. When that happens, remember Jesus’ words Ð what is important is not to have the number one spot, but to tell the world that we are born with a sinful nature, which separates us from God.

However, God sent his Son into the world to be our servant, to suffer and die on a cross. He promises a heavenly home for all who are faithful to him. That’s the story that we need to hear.

God grant that our individual churches and the Church at large will continue to remain true to the Word of God.

When I travel back to the New England states, I visit some old towns along the way. Many haven’t grown much; some have even shrunk. But right in the middle of many of those towns stands an old parish church on Main Street. I can’t help but think of our forefathers who came to this country from foreign lands to build these communities. They felt it was necessary to have a house of worship and be fed on the Word of God.

Many of those parent churches still stand. Some are museums, some even have a message that is not the gospel at all. However, the church building stands as a symbol of people’s belief in the importance of hearing the Word.

God grant that we in the Schurch today may realize our number one priority is not a political situation, but a sin situation. Sin must be taken away so that we can live eternally in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus First

Many of Jesus’ teachings call for much study and contemplation in order to discover the depth of what our Lord is teaching us. Some of the stories can even be understood by a child. However, many need much more study in order to understand the meaning Jesus wants us to learn.

The rich man in today’s text is portrayed as a good man. You probably know someone like him in your own neighborhood. He is someone you like to be with, and you might even go on vacation with him. The man in our text says to Jesus, “Good Master, what must I do to have eternal life?” He believed in life after death. His intent was not to condemn Jesus. Instead, he loved Jesus, and Jesus loved him too.

This man was a good Jewish man. He believed salvation was found by keeping the law. He lived a good life and believed he followed all the commandments. However, he was lacking an understanding of what the commandments meant spiritually, such as not hating one another (murder), or lusting after a woman (adultery), and the sinful nature was an unknown concept to him. So when Jesus said to him, “Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor. Then come and follow me.” The man dropped his head and went away because he was very rich.

What separated this man from Jesus was not money, but the love of money. Money had become his idol. It was where he had his security. In order to follow Jesus, his priorities had to change. So Jesus instructed him to get rid of his money. When money becomes the first priority in our lives, Jesus is second at best. That will not work, and so Jesus sent him on his way.

The meaning under all this is that our Lord Jesus Christ demands first place in our lives. When something comes between him and us, our priorities are dreadfully wrong and must be changed. Jesus must have first place in our lives. He wasn’t first in this man’s case, and so Jesus instructed him to get rid of what stood between him and his Lord.

This was not the case in every situation. One day, as Jesus was going to Jericho, he met another wealthy man. His name was Zacchaeus, and he lived in Jericho. Zacchaeus wanted to meet Jesus, so he climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see the Lord. When Jesus passed by, he said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:1-10).

And so Zacchaeus jumped down and led Jesus off to his beautiful, palatial home. That night, after dinner, Jesus had a chat with Zacchaeus. And the conversation could have gone something like, “Zacchaeus, I sense that the people in this town do not like you. In fact, I find a lot of hatred there. Tell me about it.”

Zacchaeus said, “Lord, the people say that I have cheated them. I am a tax collector and the Roman law allows me to collect all I want as long as I give to Caesar what belongs to him. Perhaps my prices sometimes are kind of high, but I needed it to get this wealth.”

Jesus said to him, “Zacchaeus, you are missing something. You have the simple message, but you don’t know the depth of it all.” Then Jesus explained to him the meaning of true wealth.

In the morning, when Jesus met Zacchaeus, he probably greeted him and thanked him for the bed. And Zacchaeus responded, “I haven’t slept a wink, because what you told me has turned my life around. You have not had first place in my life. Money has had it, and the people know that very well. I have lived in a very high standard. 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.”

Money must have its rightful place. Jesus must be first before everything else in our lives. He must be the center of our lives.

What are some other things that might be in the way? How about those with brilliant minds and advanced degrees from some prestigious institutions? My degree will see me through. Any university would be honored to have me on their staff. And so the attitude is I know what I know. The Gospel is too insignificant for our day, and I don’t have time for it.

Or perhaps we don’t agree with one of Jesus’ ethical messages. Perhaps we just can’t swallow the idea that all we have to do in order to be saved is to believe in him, and our sins will be taken away. It is then that Jesus tells us to swallow our intellect, bow before him, confess our sins, and we will be saved. Yet a person walks away. He has great intelligence, high honors, and yet is not saved. And the reason? It wasn’t the intelligence or the schools at which he studied. No; it was the worship of his intellect.

Some rest secure that they have raised a nice family who will take care of them, and so they have no worries whatsoever about the future. But Jesus tells us that, although your family can do great things for you, a day will come when they can do no more. They will be with you, care for you, and get whatever medical help you need. However, one day they will have to admit, with tears running down their cheeks, that they can do no more to help you.

That is why Jesus Christ must be number one in our lives, in our family, before our intellect, and concerning our money. All those other things that make life interesting must find their rightful place.

It is interesting to notice that the first commandment God gave to Moses was, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Luther’s meaning to it is, “We should so fear and love God that we worship we honor, we love him, and we trust him.” Later on in the Bible, it says, “for the Lord Your God, who is among you, is a jealous God . . .” (Deuteronomy 6:15).

From the very beginning, God has demanded to be first in life. Who then can be saved? That is what the disciples asked also. Jesus responded, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Who of us can say Jesus Christ is always number one in our lives? I certainly can’t! Many times in my life he has been less than number one. However, if we confess our sins, he will forgive them, and by grace we will be saved. And he also will give us the great desire to make him number one, for he made us number one by paying the price for our sins on the cross of Calvary.

Just a Closer Walk

Are you growing in your love for people and your heavenly Father?

Would your spouse describe you as self-giving, self-controlled and kind? Would your coworkers say you are trustworthy, reliable, and kind? Would your children say you are generous, good, and moral? Would your friends describe you as trustworthy, faithful, and a good listener?

In today’s text, Jesus is talking about bearing fruit, which really falls under the attribute of love. A key phrase here is the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. All those are descriptors of love. Jesus holds them up by saying they are good for you and for the people around you. But, more important, they glorify God as others see the life of love you are living. You become a walking advertisement pointing others toward Jesus Christ. They can see the difference Christ makes in a person’s life, and they want it in their life too. Jesus died on a cross and rose again not just to prepare a place for me in his heaven, but also to walk alongside of me in my daily life and help me become a more loving individual as I bear fruit to the glory of the Father.

How do we become more loving people? On our own, it cannot happen. However, with Jesus at work in our lives, great things can happen in our relationship as he changes us. Jesus spoke to his followers in the Upper Room the night before his crucifixion. He is setting them up for the future.

In John chapter 13, Jesus talks about the importance of loving one another Ð the “new commandment.”

In chapter 14 he says, “(I know you’re scared, but) don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I go to prepare a place for you . . .” And he goes on and talks in that chapter, “I will not leave you orphaned, I will come to you” (v. 18). I am giving you the Holy Spirit to come alongside as you walk into the future.

In chapter 15, Jesus is describing life together as believers. He is telling his followers how he wants them to live out the rest of their days together. He uses the analogy of a vine and branches. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” He is the one who prunes us and wants to see our fruit. As Jesus’ followers, we are the branches who’ve been pruned and made clean. We are one of his because we’ve placed our trust in him, listened to his word and followed him. God is at work in us. But the reality is that just as branches need to cling to the vine to stay alive and bear grapes, so we need to stay attached to Jesus. We need to stay connected to him, for without him we cannot bear fruit. We cannot grow in our love for others without him.

When he says, “Abide in me just as I abide in you,” he is talking about the intimate relationship that he wants to have with all his disciples. Those who abide in him bear much fruit Ð love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, generosity. This is the fruit of love. “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (vs. 5b)

In this day of electronics and technology, Jesus probably would use a different sort of analogy to help us understand. He’d probably hold up a power strip and say, “I am the wall socket, and you’re the power strip; not plugged into me, you can do nothing.”

I play in a little worship band, and recently I had trouble with an amplifier. It wouldn’t come on, so I banged on it and hit some switches. When that didn’t work, someone finally pointed to the wall socket and said, “Steve, you’ve got to plug it in.” It helps to stay plugged in.

Jesus is saying pretty much the same thing here. It helps to stay plugged in if you want to bear the fruit of love in your relationships and in your love for the Father who loves you and has given the Savior to save you from your sins. God the Father is glorified when we bear that kind of fruit and point people in his direction. It’s a sign of being his disciple and belonging to him.

Why does Jesus use this analogy? He is after you and me. He is making an appeal to those of us who call ourselves his disciples. “Abide in me, remain in me, walk closely with me, because you really do need me.”

He is speaking to the college student who is hurrying off to college for that first year of independence. Stick with me, remain with me.

He is talking to the married couple who just returned from their honeymoon and are now wondering how to make their marriage grow and become more loving. Stick with me. I know what makes marriage work.

He is thinking of the employee who wants to be a positive, contributing factor to those at work. Stick with me, abide in me, and you will be amazed at what I can do in your life to change your ability to love those around you.

To those who long for a sense of nearness and intimacy and desire a great prayer life, Jesus says, Abide in me; stick with me.

How do I abide? It begins with a decision to believe what Jesus is telling us Ð that he does know what makes life work and has the ability to change us into a more loving person. To declare our dependence on him and say “I need you; I can’t live a day without you. I can’t grow in my love and glorify God without you, Jesus.” To daily surrender to the invitation in this portion of scripture. To pray the words of that old gospel song:

I am weak, but thou art strong. Jesus keep me from all wrong.

I’ll be satisfied as long as I walk, dear Lord, close to Thee

Just a closer walk with Thee. Grant it Jesus is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee. Let it be Lord, let it be.

It’s in that daily surrender that we turn our lives over to his care. It’s through prayer at the beginning of each day, as we remind ourselves that we are not independent operators. Jesus loves us with a cross-like love. As we turn our lives over to his care each day, he has his way with us, and we begin to change.

An author, Lee Strobel once said, “How can I tell you the difference God has made in my life? My daughter, Allison, was five-years-old when I became a follower of Jesus. All she had known was a dad who was profane and angry. One night I even kicked a hole in the living room wall out of anger. I’m ashamed to think of the times my little girl hid in her room to get away from me. “Five months after I gave my life to Jesus, my little girl said to my wife, ÔMommy, I want God to do for me what he’s done for Daddy.'”

She had never studied archeological evidence regarding the truth of the Bible. All she knew was that her daddy used to be difficult to live with, but more and more he was changing. If that is what God does to people, then sign her up. At age five she gave her life to Jesus.

My favorite preacher from long ago is Peter Marshall. He was a great man of God, and at the ending of one of his little messages he wrote these words, “God hasn’t given up on you. He can still do great things for you, in you, and through you. He’s ready and waiting and able. What about you and me? We are, after all, like lumps of clay. We are brittle, hard pieces with little shape or beauty, but we need not despair. Let us remem-ber the potter with his wheel. The old gospel song has it right. ÔHave thine own way, Lord, have thine own way. Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting Ð yielded and still.'”

We have only to be yielded, willing, surrendered. Christ will do the rest. He will make us according to the pattern for which we were designed in his love. And it will be for our own good and for his glory.

“Just a closer walk with thee. Grant it Jesus, is my plea.” May that be your prayer every day. God has great plans for your love life.