The story is told of the man walking along the river Lark who found a bottle. He opened it and out popped the genii. The genii said, ‘I demand a public enquiry to investigate why so many geniis get put in bottles ..’ No. He said, ‘You’ve got three wishes’. So the man said, ‘I want to live on a tropical island, surrounded by palm trees and sandy beaches’, and pow, in less than a second he was there. So he said, ‘I want a billion pounds’. And the genii said, ‘Only a billion?’ and pow, there was a billion. And the man said, ‘For my third wish, I’d like to be irresistible to women’, and pow – he was transformed into a box of chocolates.
What would you like? What would you really like?
Jesus calls the blind man to come to him and asks him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
If you were standing in front of Jesus now, and he asked you that question, how would you answer?
For some of us, like the blind man, the answer would be easy. It would be something that we have dreamed of for years, or it is something that is so heavy on us. I want my daughter to get better; I want a child; I want my husband to be healed; I really want a job or a different job; I want the pain to go away; I want our marriage back; I want to meet someone who I can share my life with; I want to be rich and fulfilled.
You possibly know the film ‘Bruce Almighty’. Bruce becomes God for a day. At first he thinks it is great having all this power. And then the prayers come: millions upon millions of requests – from people who are broken or crushed or desperate. Bruce solves the problem by clicking on ‘reply all’, typing ‘yes’, and hitting ‘send’. Chaos ensues.
We can only concentrate on one person at a time. If we are waiting to see the doctor we have to wait our turn in a queue. But the thing about God is that he isn’t just a human person writ large. God is so big, so beyond our understanding, that he says that he is able to personally concentrate and focus on you and you and you, and on an infinite number of people, at the same time. He can do it.
This story is telling us that if we recognise who Jesus is and call out to him for mercy, and if the obstacles that are in our way are overcome – when we come to stand in front of him, he will say to us, ‘What would you like me to do for you?’
1. We need to recognise who Jesus is
The crowd say to the blind man, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by’. That is an ordinary title. It’s like saying, Peter from Drinkstone is coming by.
But the blind man sees in Jesus of Nazareth something more. He doesn’t cry out, ‘Jesus of Nazareth have mercy on me’. He cries out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’.
And that is significant.
The Jews were waiting for a son of David, a descendant of their great king David who had lived 800 years earlier, who would come as the Messiah – who would come to be God’s ruler not just of Israel, but of the world – who would establish God’s kingdom of justice, mercy, right-ness, peace and joy.
He would, in the words of Isaiah – well, let’s look at three references:
In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
The blind man sees more clearly than many of those who have visual sight. He sees that this Jesus of Nazareth is none other than the Son of David who God promised would come as Messiah. And he cries out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’.
So I ask you, who do you think this Jesus is?
Is he simply Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of a world religion that has lasted 2000 years, whose teachings we can find in the bible, but who is now dead – because if that is the case then prayer where we ask for things is at its best a sort of positive thinking exercise or at worst an escapist form of wishful thinking.
Or is Jesus more than that?
Because if he is in fact the Messiah who God sent into this world, who died and rose again, who is alive, and who will one day return (even though that concept just blows our minds), then crying out to him for something is not wishful thinking.
The blind man saw who Jesus was and cried out to him to have mercy on him.
2. We need to persist in our prayer.
The crowd tell the blind man to shut up. He was an embarrassment.
He was a social embarrassment:
He was a political embarrassment: when you are under occupation, and Roman soldiers were just round the corner, you didn’t proclaim that someone passing by was the Messiah.
It is interesting that it is the people ‘who led the way’ who told him to be quiet – probably the disciples. No doubt they wanted to protect Jesus – to keep him kosher. They also probably wanted to keep Jesus for themselves.
So they tell him to be quiet!
And those of us who would call ourselves Christians need to be very careful that our desire for correctness, for doing things the right way, for order or simply our own self-interest, does not end up pushing people away from Jesus.
But equally, if you do really begin to see who Jesus is, and if you are desperate for him, you won’t be put off. On the day of judgement when you stand in front of him, and he says, ‘Why didn’t you come to me?’ and you say, ‘Well your followers told me to shut up, or they were unfriendly, or someone who claimed to follow you really hurt me, or their church services were just unreal’, it won’t be any excuse.
This blind man will stand up in judgement against you.
He had a single focus. He was going to get to Jesus.
They tell him to shut up; he cries out louder.
And Jesus hears, and orders them to bring the man to him.
So please don’t be put off. Don’t be put off by others; and don’t be put off if nothing happens immediately. I guess part of the issue is whether we take Jesus seriously? Do we take him sufficiently seriously so that we will persist in calling out to him, even if nothing happens at first, or if opposition comes?
3. Should we expect Jesus to give us what we want?
And the answer is both ‘no’ and ‘yes’.
There are moments when we do see some astonishing answers to prayer, when we get glimpses of the coming kingdom of God. There are wonderful moments when blind people see and deaf people hear.
But Jesus will not always give us what we want.
There have been many blind men and women, who have longed to be able to see, who have come to Jesus and who have not been healed.
There have been many people who have come to Jesus and have asked for the gift of children, for marriages to be restored, or people to be healed, and they have not received what they wanted.
But actually I think our problem is that we ask too little.
What do you really want?
What do you really want for yourself and for those who God has put you in relationship with? What do you want for them now? What do you want for them in 10 years time, in 30 years time, in 60 years time, in 100 years time?
May I suggest that what you really want for yourself and for those you love is hope now, an end to death and a joy that lasts for eternity?
The ancient writers spoke about three levels of existence: being, well-being and eternal well-being. In our prayers for ourselves we tend to focus on being: Father, help them get better. Or well-being: ‘I really want that better job, or bigger house, or a life partner, or for my child to do well at school and university.’
But we are all going to die. It is all temporary.
There would come a point again in the life of this blind man, when his eyesight would fade, and he would die.
Of course we should ask Jesus for those things that we most desire at any particular moment. He may, or he may not give us what we want.
But could I suggest that a better prayer to pray when we stand in front of Jesus, and he asks us, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ is to say, ‘I want eternal joy, and would you give me a glimpse, a taster, of that eternal joy now’.
If we really do come to him – and not to some little god who is the figment of our imagination – then Jesus can and will say ‘yes’ to that request.
He is the Messiah: he came to establish God’s eternal reign of justice and mercy and peace and joy. It cost him everything to do that – it cost him his life. But he gave his life because he longs for you and for me to be citizens of his kingdom.
Paul prays that the Christians in the town of Ephesus will come to know the love of God, and will come to be filled with the love of God. And he continues, ‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine .. to him be glory’. (Ephesians 3:20)
The blind man asked to receive his sight. He received his sight. But, if you notice, he received so much more: He becomes a follower of Jesus. We’re told that in verse 43. And he praises God; he receives the gift of joy.
We looked at those passages in Isaiah which speak of what will happen when Messiah comes. They continue:
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
and the poor among mankind shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
The Messiah comes to bring praise and joy.
Real joy comes when we forget ourselves and are lost in the wonder of another.
Joy comes when Murray hits that final winning shot.
Eternal joy comes when we are lost in wonder of the one who loves us, who died for us, who has conquered death and who, if we come to him, will never let us go.
Could I suggest that in your prayers, you think of that question which Jesus asks, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Do mention before him the immediate things, but then, think deeper. Because he is also asking, ‘What do you really want me to do for you?’