OUR GOLDEN TEXT briefly and concisely sets forth our Lord's mission. To those who learn to read it aright it tells of a world of mankind, the entire race of Adam, lost in sin and its penalty, death—lost without hope of ability to recover itself, without hope that any member of the race could ever redeem it or give to God a ransom for his brother. (Psa. 49:7.) This text sets forth the remedy, the only remedy provided by the Son of man. "He who was rich for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich"—he left the heavenly condition and humbled himself to human nature that "he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (2 Cor. 8:9; Heb. 2:9.) To appreciate the meaning of the word "lost" in this connection helps us to appreciate the meaning of the word "saved." As man was lost in sin, lost in death, so he is to be recovered from sin, recovered from death.
Salvation then, in God's arrangement, means recovery from sin and its penalty death, and from all its concomitants of sorrow and pain, imperfection and dying. How reasonable, how sensible, is this Scriptural proposition! How well it is backed up by the Apostle's statement that the [R3847 : page 278] salvation to be brought to mankind at the second coming of Jesus will be a recovery or restitution of all that was lost, during the "times of restitution of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began." (Acts 3:19-21.) While this salvation belongs specifically to the coming age, the Millennium, nevertheless to some the Lord is granting a beginning of salvation in the present time—to those whose eyes and ears of understanding and hearts of appreciation are open to the messages of divine grace, whispered at the present time under adverse conditions, but by and by to be so sounded abroad that every ear shall hear.
Jesus was en route for Jerusalem by way of Jericho. The Feast of Passover was approaching, and the roads leading to Jerusalem had many travellers, who usually went in companies or in groups. With our Lord and his apostles was a considerable number of friends, together with numerous Pharisees headed toward Jericho. By the wayside sat a blind man, Bartimeus, hoping to excite the sympathy of the passers-by, for he was a beggar. In those days there was no special provision for the blind, and there were many of them in those parts.
Although numerous groups had passed, something especially attracted the attention of Bartimeus to this group as an extraordinary one, and he inquired who or what so large a company might represent. He was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, and that the commotion, the multitude, represented those who were in his company. Many evidently preceded Jesus, so that the blind man began to cry for mercy and help before the Lord got to him. Those in the forefront rebuked him and told him to stop his shouting, intimating that the great Teacher should not be interrupted by a wayside beggar. But the man had evidently heard of Jesus before—possibly had heard of other blind men healed by him. In any event he was seized with a conviction that this prophet of Nazareth was able to grant him relief, that he was probably the true Messiah, the Son of God. Hence he shouted the more vociferously, "Thou Son of David [Messiah], have mercy on me!"
The procession stopped, and Jesus commanded that the man be brought to him. He did not shout for him to come, but commanded, "Let him be brought." Mark (10:46) tells us that those who brought the blind man said to him, "Be of good cheer, rise; he calleth thee," and also tells us that [R3848 : page 278] he immediately cast away his cloak or mantle in his haste to respond. When led to Jesus the latter asked him, "What wilt thou that I should do for thee?" He responded, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." The Lord answered, "Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee."
There were many blind men throughout Palestine, yet only comparatively few received such a blessing. Why? Undoubtedly because few had the requisite faith. Note in the case of Bartimeus, the evidence of his faith as soon as he heard, the persistency which belongs to true faith; and note also the evidence that he was of sincere heart, as demonstrated by the fact that after he had received his sight he followed the Lord, glorifying God. He might on the contrary have said to himself, "Yes, I have heard a good deal about modern salves and about a prophet who could speak the word and restore the sight, but in my opinion all these are deceptions. In any case they are not for me. I suppose if I were rich and influential this Prophet of Nazareth would be pleased to heal me if he thought I would give him a good fee, or if some of my relatives were able to pay him well. No, I have given up all hope. Israel has been looking for a long time for the Messiah, anyway. It is not at all probable that he will come in my day, that he will pass by just where I am sitting, and that it would be any use for me to cry out for mercy to him." Had the blind man thus reasoned, without faith, undoubtedly the procession would have passed him by and he would have remained blind.
That physical blindness is a terrible affliction none will question. But how much more serious is the mental and spiritual blindness which prevails. The Scriptures tell us that the whole world, except the few who are true believers in the Lord Jesus, are all blind—"The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not." (2 Cor. 4:4.) The blinded ones are cut off by false doctrines from ability to see the grandeur of the divine character and plan for human salvation. There are various degrees of this mental and spiritual blindness: some can see nothing, others can see a little, vaguely, dimly. Some can look at the sun, moon and stars and see nothing in them beyond what they call nature—a federation of matter without intelligent direction. The Prophet has declared that "Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard," by some; but, alas, how many there are who hear not, see not, these things, who realize not the divine supervision of all of life's affairs.
Lacking of faith in a gracious, just and loving God of wisdom and power, these blind and deaf ones are unprepared for the messages of his love and grace as they are given to us in his Word. To some of them it seems foolishness to think of a personal Creator at all: to others it seems foolish to think that one so great as to be able to create the worlds would pay particular attention to the interests of the individual members of our race. They are blind and cannot see afar off—they can merely see the affairs of the present life, with its eating and drinking, planting and building, laughing and crying, living and dying. They know not if there is anything else or what it is. Others with a little opening of the eyes of understanding can realize that there is a personal God and that he takes a personal interest; and these in turn are blinded by the Adversary's misrepresentations of the divine Word, which give false impressions respecting the divine character and plan. These are blinded by the traditions of the elders from the "dark ages" respecting the divine purpose—that it is merely to elect a few and to turn the great majority into a place of eternal torment. Alas for such blindness! How we long for the time promised by the Lord through the Prophet, when all shall know him, from the least to the greatest—when all the blind eyes shall be opened and all the deaf ears shall be unstopped.
The incident before us in this lesson serves well to illustrate how some who at the present time belong to the blind class are brought to the Lord and graciously receive the opening of the eyes of their understanding. In the [R3848 : page 279] Lord's providence they hear that Jesus of Nazareth passes by; in the Lord's providence they have heard something respecting the great Teacher and the eternal life and the opening of blind eyes which he effects. They seize the opportunity, they lay hold upon the Lord by faith, they cry to him,—"Have mercy upon me, thou Son of David." The thought is suggested to them that there are many more worthy than themselves to have the Master's attention, that they are too insignificant, too sinful for him to recognize. But faith holds on. They have heard of his mercy toward others and they cry unto him so much the more, until finally he bids them come, and "whosoever cometh unto him he will in no wise cast out."—John 6:37.
All who now come unto the Lord by faith encounter some experiences of opposition which correspond in considerable degree to those of Bartimeus. Generally they are without encouragement until they realize their need and cry to the Lord. Even these now find assistance from those who delight to assist them, saying, "Be of good cheer, rise; he calleth thee."
Then comes the Master's question, "What wilt thou?" And well it is for those who, like Bartimeus, can say, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." Such do receive enlightenment from the Lord, an enlightenment by which they can see him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and through whom they may come to a knowledge of the Father, whom to know is life eternal.—John 17:3.
But, alas, many today when asked this question, "What wilt thou?" request riches or honors of men or temporal blessings of some sort, appreciating not their great need of spiritual necessities. Even those of us who have enjoyed considerable blessing in the way of the opening of our eyes to see the divine character and plan need to remember how the Apostle prayed for the Church, "that the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power."—Eph. 1:18,19.
When the multitude saw that the blind man had received his sight and had become a follower of Jesus and was giving glory to God they also joined in praise—all who beheld. So it is today with us. As one after another come to a knowledge of the divine character and plan, all who are in accord with the Lord are not only ready to assist them to the Lord, but ready also to join in praise on their behalf, rejoicing in their blessing. The great mass of the world, however, who see not, who appreciate not, this miracle of change from blindness to spiritual sight and understanding, cannot now join in praise and thanks to God. We are glad, however, that the time is coming when the knowledge of the glory of God shall fill the whole earth, when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, when every creature in heaven and in earth shall be heard saying "Praise and honor and dominion and glory and power be unto him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb."—Isa. 11:9; Phil. 2:11; Rev. 5:13.
Our lesson gives a second illustration of how the Son of man is able to save all that come unto him through faith. The Lord and his company had passed through Jericho on toward Jerusalem. The whole city evidently was stirred with the knowledge that the great Prophet of Nazareth was en route for Jerusalem. Zaccheus was apparently one of its prominent and wealthy citizens, a publican. The word "publican" today is in some places the name applied to bar-keepers, liquor-dealers, but in our Lord's time it indicated a collector of taxes for the Roman government. The Israelites demurred against being taxed by the Romans, claiming that they were the Kingdom of God, and that the Roman nation and all nations should rather pay taxes to them. The prejudice on the subject was so strong that the more reputable class of Jews would not accept the office. Besides this, the methods of collecting the taxes were frequently along the lines of extortion, as indeed is said to be still the method of collecting taxes in oriental lands.
Consequently to be a publican came to signify an irreligious, unpatriotic, unscrupulous character. The Pharisees disesteemed these as sinners, as no longer Jews nor heirs of the Covenant promises. The publicans recognized themselves as of the sinner caste, and sometimes in the Temple, if they went there to pray, heard the more religious give thanks to God that they were not publicans—that they had not lost all their manhood and religion and patriotism.
Zaccheus was one of the chief publicans, a prominent one amongst them, and rich. Yet apparently his heart was ill at ease. Although he had found his occupation a lucrative one he was not satisfied. Not that he would admit that his riches were all gained by dishonesty, but he realized that some of them were not honestly and honorably obtained. This would probably be true of the majority of rich people. As he heard of the Kingdom of God and the Prophet of Nazareth and his work of miracles, his heart was longing for relationship with God—he wanted to at least see this Prophet. Short of stature, the crowd being large, he had poor opportunity, but he ran ahead of the procession [R3849 : page 279] and climbed into a sycamore tree, and, seated on one of its branches over the road, he got a good view of Jesus as he passed by him.
Similarly today to some come longing desires for righteousness, harmony with God and fellowship with the Lord Jesus, and the prospect of eternal life in the Kingdom. How much depends upon the way they entertain this thought! They can turn it aside and say, "It is no use for me to think of reconciliation with the Father and a life of harmony with him; it is no use for me to try to turn over a new leaf. My business is built upon a disreputable foundation; I have already acquired a reputation for dishonesty, which I could never shake off. The new life which this great Teacher Jesus proclaims is no doubt grand for those who can accept it, but I am not one of them." Had Zaccheus followed such suggestions and inclinations he would perhaps have gone in another direction instead of wishing to see more of the Lord.
It is a hopeful sign when we find any desiring to have clearer views of the Lord or his Word or his plan. We would exhort all such to go ahead and climb a sycamore tree and get a good view of matters; peradventure to them, as to Zaccheus, the Lord might speak some word of comfort and encouragement. Let such remember that, if honest [R3849 : page 280] hearted and earnest of purpose, some of their natural disadvantages may under the Lord's providence work out for them a blessing, even as Zaccheus found that his smallness of stature brought him more particularly to the Lord's attention than otherwise. But his zeal was necessary, as well as his manifestation of interest and faith.
We can imagine Zaccheus lying on a limb of a sycamore tree, looking down upon the Lord, studying the lines of his countenance, wondering whether or not this were the very Christ, and feeling despair in his own heart as he realized his own imperfection and impurity as contrasted with the Master's character, which shone forth in his countenance, speaking purity, gentleness, meekness, patience, love. How surprised he must have been when the Master stopped and looked directly into his eyes and, calling his name, said, "Zaccheus, come down, for I must dine today at thy house." We have here evidences of the Lord's knowledge of what is in man, that he reads the heart and makes no mistakes. Zaccheus was indeed glad to receive him and hasted to come down and to take him to his home. Doubtless there were others in that vicinity not only more highly esteemed amongst men but of still grander and nobler character than Zaccheus, but he had the longing heart, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. To him the blessing came; he should be filled.
What a wonderful opportunity it was to have the Master come to his home! What an honor, what an opportunity for hearing some precious words, instructions, guidance, encouragement! Not all the conversation of that dinner-table is recorded, but sufficient is told to teach the lesson. Whatever the Lord said to him, Zaccheus there made a full surrender of his heart—that henceforth he would not only forsake sin and evil customs and practices, but that so far as possible he would make restitution for wrong doing and injustice. This is of great importance in the Lord's sight. It is in vain that we attempt to make use of God's grace forgiving our sins while we would hold on to money or property obtained from our neighbors by some dishonest practices. Zaccheus gave evidence of a sound conversion when he declared, "If I have wrongly exacted aught from any man, I restore fourfold"—not" I have restored fourfold," but "I will restore fourfold." The intimation here given is that Zaccheus was more than ordinarily upright as a publican, otherwise to have restored fourfold would of itself have ruined a large fortune. On the contrary, Zaccheus consecrated one-half of all his possessions to the poor, and out of what remained he would make good fourfold, four times as much, for all that he had taken unjustly from others, and still he hoped a reasonable competence would be left.
We believe that many today make a great mistake in that they do not more fully follow the course of Zaccheus—in that they continue to hold on to something which really, rightfully, belongs to another; and secondly, that they do not consecrate more of their wealth of money or property or time or talents to the Lord. Zaccheus was a Jew, and under the requirements of the Law one-tenth of his yearly increase would be his obligation to religious matters. But he far exceeded this, giving not merely a half of his annual income, but a half of all the principal, of all the money and property and goods which he possessed. Some have inquired of us, What is the reasonable obligation of a Christian? We answer that our reasonable service should surely be more than the one-tenth of the Jews. To our understanding Zaccheus did not even go the full length of a complete sacrifice. The hymn expresses our sentiments:—
However, Zaccheus publicly, practically, did this very thing, the difference being that we who live this side of Pentecost, and who consecrate all to the Lord, are in turn by him made stewards to use that all according to our enlightenment day by day in his service.
This question should be settled promptly by all who would grow in grace, in knowledge, in love and character-likeness of our Lord—Have I forsaken sin, and the ways of sin and dishonesty? Have I made ample restitution so far as possible for every injury done to fellow creatures? What have I sacrificed, half of my goods or all of my goods to the Lord and his cause? If as a Christian I have sacrificed all, how am I keeping that engagement, that covenant, that sacrifice? Am I remembering that time and talent and influence as well as money belong to him and are my reasonable service? Am I spending and being spent day by day or not? How will it stand with me when the Master reckons with his people? Will I have joy in rendering my account, or will I with sorrow be obliged to admit that as a steward I have been unfaithful, and have buried my talents in earthly aims and objects and ambitions and services, or will I be able to present to the Lord fruits of my labor and sacrifice, and hear him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joys of thy Lord"?
Let us remember the words of the Lord through the Prophet, "Gather together my saints unto me; those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice" (Psa. 50:5), "They shall be mine, saith the Lord, in that day when I make up my jewels."—Mal. 3:17.
Some of those of the multitude who had rejoiced with the blind beggar were greatly disappointed when they found Jesus affiliating with an acknowledged publican. The difficulty was that they had misconceptions and had not yet come to see that the Lord looketh upon the heart, and that in the Lord's sight this humble and grateful publican was nearer to the Kingdom than themselves. Jesus' words to them were, "This day is salvation come to this house." Zaccheus also is a son of Abraham. "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost." Salvation came to his house—not in the complete sense, for that, as the Apostle says, is to be brought unto us at the revelation, the second coming of our Lord and Savior. But salvation came to him in the sense that his heart was turned from sin and selfishness toward God and righteousness. Zaccheus that day, under the Lord's favor and blessing and instruction, and his own cooperation in the same, in the turning over of a new leaf and becoming a follower of the teachings of Jesus, was saved in a reckoned sense—in the sense that he no longer [R3849 : page 281] loved the ways of sin, but now loved the ways of righteousness—in the sense that he was no longer walking after the things of the flesh, but now was walking after the things of the Spirit, the things of God, the things of righteousness, the things of truth, the things most pleasing to the Master, in his footsteps.